On Tuesday, Congressional Democrats said that they have created legislation that would override the disappointing June 30 SCOTUS decision on the contraceptive mandate. The Protect Women's Health from Corporate Interference Act, drafted in consultation with the Obama administration, is meant to ensure that working women have access to insurance coverage for contraceptive care, even if they are employed with for-profit companies whose owners have religious objections to birth control.
At first glance, this development seems to be a beacon of hope for those of us who believe that health care decisions should not be our boss’s business. Efforts to draft the bill were led by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Mark Udall (D-CO). Murray criticized the Court's 5-4 decision as being discriminatory because it allows employers to discriminate against their female employees. In a statement, Udall remarked that the decision “opened the door to unprecedented corporate intrusion into our private lives.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the court’s ruling “outrageous” and promised that Congress would deal with the proposed legislation swiftly: “The one thing we’re going to do during this work period, sooner rather than later, is to ensure that women’s lives are not determined by virtue of five men.”
As reported by the New York Times, the bill does not attempt to amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) – the law that served as a foundation for the SCOTUS decision. Instead, the bills states that an employer “shall not deny coverage of a specific health care item or service” when this coverage is mandated by federal law. Basically, the bill will not allow an employer's personal religious beliefs to interfere with a woman's health care decisions. As it's written, the bill will still make exemptions for nonprofit religious organizations – the original accommodation put in place by the Affordable Care Act.
The bill is designed to be an interim solution. The hope is to allow working women to have access to the health coverage they need while giving Congress a chance to reevaluate RFRA. If the bill passes the Senate, it’s predicted to have a slim chance of passing the Republican-controlled House. House Democrats are crafting a companion bill. The ACLU encourages you to support this bill by contacting Congress and asking them to support the Protect Women's Health from Corporate Interference Act. You can read ACLU-National's blog post about the bill here.