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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Democrats in Senate introduce bill to overcome Hobby Lobby limits on contraceptive coverage

Posted By on Wed, Jul 9, 2014 at 9:15 AM

Democratic Senators Patty Murray and Mark Udall have introduced legislation to overcome the U.S. Supreme Court limits in the Hobby Lobby ruling on contraceptive coverage in health insurance policies offered by for-profit corporations. The court said a corporation could claim a religious exemption from the mandate of federal law to provide women with contraception coverage. Writes Talking Points Memo of the shape of the legislation:

... it prohibits employers from refusing to provide health services, including contraception, to their employees if required by federal law. It clarifies that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the basis for the Supreme Court's ruling against the mandate, and all other federal laws don't permit businesses to opt out of the Obamacare requirement.

The legislation also puts the kibosh on legal challenges by religious nonprofits, like Wheaton College, instead declaring that the accommodation they're provided under the law is sufficient to respect their religious liberties. (It lets them pass the cost on to the insurer or third party administrator if they object.) Houses of worship are exempt from the mandate.

This bill will restore the original legal guarantee that women have access to contraceptive coverage through their employment-based insurance plans and will protect coverage of other health services from employer objections as well, according to the summary.

Said a statement from the National Women's Law Center:

“Last week, the Supreme Court dealt a blow to women’s health by ruling that some corporations can have religious beliefs, which trump the religious beliefs and health needs of their female employees. This critical legislation will protect women’s health care services guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act and safeguard their rights from employers who want to force their religious beliefs on their employees. Women have worked for and earned the right to have their health needs covered—just as men do. This legislation makes it unmistakably clear that businesses, in the name of religion, can neither discriminate against their female employees nor impose their religious beliefs on them. And it will prevent a slippery slope of potential challenges from some employers to covering other health care services they oppose.

It seems safe to predict 1) The House Republican majority will resist any measure that makes it easier for women to get insurance coverage for birth control pills under their group health plans. 2) It will become a campaign issue.

I've asked Sen. Mark Pryor's office for comment.

UPDATE: Here's more on the announcement, in which advocates said, among others, that women are "tired of being targeted." The bill has 35 co-sponsors, not including Mark Pryor, according to Udall's release.

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