WASHINGTON—Barely a week after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the federal government cannot force closely held corporations to pay for employees’ abortifacient drugs in violation of their religious beliefs, Senate Democrats on Wednesday announced legislation to reverse the Hobby Lobby decision.
“After five justices decided last week that an employer’s personal views can interfere with women’s access to essential health services, we in Congress need to act quickly to right this wrong,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who crafted the legislation with Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.
The Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act would override the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)—legislation that passed the House unanimously, passed the Senate 97-3, and was signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1993. The new bill would require most for-profit businesses to provide health insurance covering all forms of contraception mandated in the Affordable Care Act, regardless of religious objections. It would exempt houses of worship and some religious nonprofit organizations.
“This bill would help close the door for denying contraception before more corporations can walk through it,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called the Hobby Lobby ruling “outrageous” and promised to fast track the legislation. It could come up for a vote as early as next week, but even with a Democratic majority, several members running for reelection in conservative states this fall may be reluctant to vote for it. Some of Murray’s embattled Democratic colleagues, including Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, were noticeably absent from her list of supporters.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called the Democratic effort sad and lamentable. “RFRA was passed with huge bipartisan majorities in both houses,” Moore told me in an email. “Now, some would jeopardize religious freedom in order to fight their culture war. Religious liberty is too important to everyone in this country to see it end up a dead trophy on the wall of the sexual revolutionaries.”
The Hobby Lobby decision has also drawn criticism from gay rights groups, who say it will be used to discriminate against homosexual employees.
House Democrats are preparing companion legislation that is virtually assured of going nowhere in the Republican-controlled chamber. GOP House leaders praised the high court’s decision for preserving religious liberty, saying people of faith should be able to practice their beliefs in all areas of their lives.
“Hobby Lobby never argued against the ability for women to access contraceptives—they simply do not believe in being forced by the federal government to cover abortifacients,” said Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., the fifth-ranking House Republican.
He pointed out that RFRA was designed to combat a Supreme Court decision limiting religious freedom. Lankford told WORLD he would oppose efforts to roll back those advances: “All members of Congress are free to introduce legislation as they wish, but I will continue to stand with conservatives in the House to oppose legislation like this that seeks to limit First Amendment rights to religious freedom for Americans and their family-owned businesses.”