'We should be afraid of this court'

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Americans should live in fear of the Supreme Court, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday.

Hammering a pair of recent rulings related to birth control access, the House minority leader suggested the conservative-leaning court is stealing women's freedoms when it comes to making healthcare choices.

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“We should be afraid of this court. That five guys should start determining what contraceptions are legal or not. … It is so stunning,” Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol.

Pelosi said last week's Supreme Court ruling that the birth control mandate under President Obama's healthcare reform law is a violation of religious freedom was particularly egregious.

“That court decision was a frightening one,” she said. “That five men should get down to the specifics of whether a woman should use a diaphragm and she should pay for it herself or her boss. It's not her boss's business. His business is whatever his business is. But it's not what contraception she uses.”

In its ruling the high court found that some for-profit corporations may seek exemptions to the birth control mandate if they reject certain forms of contraception on religious grounds. The decision expanded the notion that corporations should have the same rights as people, while potentially opening the door to countless challenges from other businesses claiming religious objections to other federal mandates.

The ruling has quickly become campaign trail ammunition, as Democrats are hoping to use the decision to energize female voters ahead of November’s mid-term elections. On Wednesday, Democrats in both the House and Senate introduced legislation to reverse the court's decision on the birth-control mandate, by barring any for-profit business from seeking an exemption based on religious belief. 

The decision has complicated the debate over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would bar employers from discriminating against applicants or employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Senate passed an ENDA bill 64-32 last November. House GOP leaders have refused to act on a companion bill in the lower chamber.

On Tuesday, a number of prominent gay and human rights groups withdrew their support from both bills because they carve out an exemption for religious groups. 

“Federal legislation to protect LGBT people from workplace discrimination is way beyond overdue, but Congress has no place giving religiously affiliated employers a license to discriminate against LGBT workers,” Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, said in a statement.

Pelosi said last week's court rulings have “inflamed” the ENDA debate, suggesting that, while she still supports the Senate-passed bill, there may be a need to tweak the language in light of the court's decisions.

“It would be a great advance if we could get that [Senate] bill. But there is resistance now because of a change in the dynamic in terms of the fear of the court,” Pelosi said. “We're all taken aback by it [the ruling]. So we'll meet and build our consensus around what we will do.”

Pelosi singled out two options looking ahead: Keep the current language with the religious exemption, in hopes it will attract enough Republicans to move though the GOP-controlled House. Or tweak the current bill to eliminate the religious exemption and risk losing Republican support altogether. 

“We'll see. …  It always comes down to the same thing: The votes,” she said. “I have a plan. I'm not going to tell you right now, but I have a plan on this, because this is really very, very important to me.”

She added, “Why is it even a debate that we would remove discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and identity?”

This story was updated at 1:09 p.m.