July 10–Democrats in Congress Wednesday launched efforts to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, introducing legislation that would prohibit for-profit companies from seeking religious exemptions to a federal law requiring them to offer workers contraception coverage.
The Supreme Court’s June ruling in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. weakened a provision of the Affordable Care Act that guarantees coverage of government-approved forms of contraception to individuals who obtain health insurance through their employers. The court, in a 5-4 decision, held that certain companies may opt out of the mandate, under a religious freedom law passed by Congress in 1993.
Several members of Connecticut’s Congressional delegation are among the original co-sponsors of the Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act, which was introduced Wednesday in both chambers. The legislation carves an exemption into the 1993 law by explicitly prohibiting for-profit companies from using religious objections to refuse coverage of health services required by federal law.
“Religious liberty is about the right to practice your religion, not the right to impose your religion on your employees,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Wednesday. He and Sen. Chris Murphy, both Democrats, co-sponsored the proposal in the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has signaled that he intends to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote in the coming weeks.
Even if the proposal passes the Senate, its chances of passage in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives are slim. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio., has described the Hobby Lobby decision as a “victory for religious freedom.”
In the house, U.S. Reps. Elizabeth Esty and Rosa DeLauro, congresswomen for Connecticut’s first and third districts, are cosponsors of the proposal. DeLauro said Wednesday the bill, “protects employees’ rights to health services that an independent, non-partisan body has deemed crucial.”
A spokesman for Esty said the freshman congresswoman, who is a member of the pro-choice caucus in the House, began working with other Democrats on the bill the day the Hobby Lobby decision was released.
Regardless of the outcome of this legislation, Esty’s efforts to defend provisions of the health care law reflect her work on an issue that already has been a central focus of this year’s fifth district Congressional race. Esty is running for re-election against Republican challenger Mark Greenberg, a Litchfield businessman who is making his third bid for Congress. In announcing support for the legislation Wednesday, Esty’s campaign attacked Greenberg for comments describing the Hobby Lobby decision as “a good thing.”
Greenberg, who is running as a pro-business candidate, has said that if elected he would fight for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. He has run web ads targeting Esty for her support of the law, saying he instead would pursue “reforms that work.” The Democratic National Campaign Committee, meanwhile, has funded ad spots that slam Greenberg’s health care agenda.
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