July 17, 2014 — Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a bill that aimed to reverse the Supreme Court's ruling in the Hobby Lobby contraceptive coverage case, Politico reports (Winfield Cunningham, Politico, 7/16).
The legislation would have prohibited employers from discriminating against female employees by denying "coverage of a specific health care item or service" that is guaranteed under federal law. It also would have prevented employers from using the Hobby Lobby ruling to deny employees coverage for any other preventive services, such as vaccinations, among other provisions (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/16).
A procedural vote to take up the bill failed 56-43, falling short of the 60-vote threshold that was needed. Three Republicans -- Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) joined almost all Democrats in supporting the measure.
According to Politico, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Calif.) voted against the bill in a procedural move that allows him to reintroduce the bill at a later time (Politico, 7/16).
"Despite Republican obstruction, Senate Democrats will keep working to end this type of discrimination against women," Reid said, adding, "We will continue to stand up to ensure that a woman's boss cannot interfere with her personal healthcare decisions."
Meanwhile, Democrats in the House pledged to try to force a vote on companion legislation in the GOP-controlled chamber, The Hill's "Floor Action" reports (Cox, "Floor Action," The Hill, 7/16).
Republicans and Democrats sparred over the impact of the proposed bill, with Republicans arguing that it encroached on religious freedom and Democrats contending that it was necessary to protect women's rights and health.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said, "In America, you shouldn't be forced to choose between giving up your business for your faith or giving up your faith for your business," adding that the government "has no right ... under the Constitution ... to ask people to make that choice " (Chacko, "#WGDB," Roll Call, 7/16).
However, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) argued that in approving the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (PL 103-141) -- the law at the center of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision -- Congress had intended to apply religious freedoms only to individuals, not corporations. He said that as someone who helped craft that law, he feels the Supreme Court "unwisely stretched" the law and "misapplied it to for-profit companies" (Politico, 7/16).
Meanwhile, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said that "[w]omen across the country ... watched as all but three Republicans showed they care more about protecting the rights of CEOs and corporations than about protecting the rights of women to access critical healthcare coverage."
She said that Democrats would "keep working on this until we get it done" and "fix this policy" (McGinnis/Stephenson, Reuters/Chicago Tribune, 7/16).
White House Voices Support for Bill
In related news, the White House in a Statement of Administrative Policy on Wednesday endorsed the Democratic bill, The Hill reports.
The White House said, "The administration believes that women should make personal healthcare decisions for themselves, rather than their employers deciding for them," adding, "This legislation would restore that right" (Viebeck, The Hill, 7/16).