WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans blocked an effort Wednesday to reverse the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows some for-profit companies to deny health insurance coverage for birth control.
Democrats needed 60 votes to consider legislation that would protect the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act but got 56. Only three Republicans — two of them women — voted to advance the bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., vowed to try again later this year to get the bill up for debate.
The high court’s decision June 30 came in a case involving Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma City-based chain of craft stores, and two other companies. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that closely held, for-profit corporations were covered by a 1993 law aimed at protecting the free exercise of religion and that the birth control mandate was an improper burden on the faith of Hobby Lobby’s owners.
“What happens when a CEO’s religious views are imposed on the real life of a working woman?” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.
Women will have to make medical choices based on those religious views, he said.
Republicans countered that the Hobby Lobby decision wouldn’t limit women’s access to birth control.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, called the Democrats’ arguments “a cynical attack on truth” and said birth control pills were widely available and cheap, often funded by federal money. He said it was “morally wrong” to force people to pay for something that violates their religious beliefs.
The White House issued a statement Wednesday morning contradicting Coburn’s position, saying insurance coverage “removes cost as a barrier to its use.”
“One study found that in 2013, the year the coverage requirement started, utilization increased and women saved $483 million,” the White House said.
High court’s decision
The Supreme Court’s decision was based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which passed overwhelmingly in Congress and was signed by then-President Bill Clinton. Some of the original authors of the legislation are still in Congress and are deeply divided along partisan lines over the Supreme Court’s interpretation.
Though Hobby Lobby and the other two companies in the case objected only to four contraceptives that, they contended, prevented a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman’s womb, the decision wasn’t limited to certain religious beliefs or contraceptives.
In fact, a closely held Catholic company in Colorado that objected to all contraceptive coverage won its case before a federal appeals court, and the Supreme Court rejected the Obama administration’s appeal in that case after issuing the Hobby Lobby decision.
Democrats — who have long accused Republicans of waging a war on women — have made clear that they plan to use the Hobby Lobby decision as an election-year issue.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., one of the authors of the legislation blocked on Wednesday, said, “I’d like to remind (Republicans) that women across the country are watching, and I think they will be very interested in seeing who is on their side.”
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, who is up for re-election this year, voted to block the bill and said later that Democrats had distorted the Supreme Court ruling.
“Senate Democrats should instead bring forward or consider one of the countless House bills that seeks to fix our health care system dismantled by Obamacare, which has led to skyrocketing costs and loss of access to preferred doctors,” Inhofe said.