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Lawmakers on Both Sides Encouraged by Supreme Court Arguments

Lawmakers on Both Sides Encouraged by Supreme Court Arguments

March 27, 2014 — Both conservative and liberal lawmakers saw promising signs at the Supreme Court Tuesday during oral arguments over two businesses' challenges to the federal contraceptive coverage rules, CQ Roll Call reports (Attias, CQ Roll Call, 3/25).

The cases before the high court involve two corporations: Hobby Lobby, an arts-and-crafts retail chain, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a cabinet maker. The owners of both companies oppose the use of intrauterine devices and emergency contraceptives, which they claim are tantamount to abortifacients. They have argued that offering comprehensive contraceptive coverage to their employees -- as required under federal rules being implemented as part of the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) -- would violate their religious beliefs (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/25).

Lawmakers Weigh In

In press conferences after Tuesday's Supreme Court session, lawmakers highlighted comments from the justices that supported their own views.

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), who attended the oral arguments, noted an exchange between Solicitor General Donald Verrilli and Justice Anthony Kennedy about whether corporations could be required to pay for abortions under the federal government's reasoning. Pitts said he thought Verrilli "lost the case" at that point.

Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), who joined Pitts at a press conference, said she has been "personally" assured by GOP party leaders that they are "committed" to her bill (HR 940) that would allow businesses to refuse to offer coverage for certain services based on moral or religious objections (CQ Roll Call, 3/25).

A spokesperson for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) declined to comment on the status of the bill but noted that Cantor has called religious freedom a "sacred right" (Viebeck, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 3/25).

Meanwhile, the House Pro-Choice Caucus held its own press conference, during which Co-Chair Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said a question from Justice Sonia Sotomayor "pretty much summarized" the issues at hand in the cases. Specifically, Sotomayor asked whether the businesses' claim also applies to other areas, like vaccines or pork products, or is limited to contraception.

"When you substitute those hypotheticals for the issue of birth control ... the petitioners' argument sounds silly," DeGette said, adding, "But that's the argument that they made today -- that bosses should get to make the health care decisions for workers, especially for women" (CQ Roll Call, 3/25).