WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats said Tuesday that they had developed legislation to override the Supreme Court decision on contraceptives. The bill would ensure that women have access to coverage for birth control even if they work for businesses that have religious objections.
The bill, developed in consultation with the Obama administration, would require for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby Stores to provide and pay for contraceptive coverage, along with other preventive services, under the Affordable Care Act.
The measure could be on the Senate floor as early as next week, Senate Democrats said.
“Your health-care decisions are not your boss’s business,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who led efforts by Senate Democrats to respond to the court ruling. “Since the Supreme Court decided it will not protect women’s access to health care, I will.”
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House Democrats are developing a companion bill. But it faces long odds in the House, which is controlled by the GOP. Speaker John Boehner described the Hobby Lobby decision last week as “a victory for religious freedom.”
The Supreme Court said in its decision that a federal rule requiring many employers to provide contraceptive coverage for female employees was unlawful because it violated a 1993 law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That law says that the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless the burden is “the least restrictive means” to advance “a compelling governmental interest.” The court said that a family-owned for-profit corporation may engage in “the exercise of religion” like a person.
Murray’s bill criticizes the Supreme Court’s majority opinion and repudiates it by declaring that “employers may not discriminate against their female employees” in coverage of preventive health services. It says that an employer “shall not deny coverage of a specific health care item or service” where coverage is required under federal law. Moreover, it says, this requirement shall apply to employers notwithstanding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The bill explicitly preserves federal rules that provide an exemption for churches and other houses of worship that have religious objections to providing coverage for some or all contraceptives.