House Dems drafting legislation to reverse birth control decision

House Democrats are crafting legislation that would prevent privately held companies from denying birth control coverage to their employees.

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Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said the Supreme Court made a mistake on Monday when it ruled that that some private companies can opt out of the birth control mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

“Congress never intended RFRA to be used by employers as a means of interfering with private healthcare choices of their employees,” DeGette and Nadler said in a joint statement.

“The law kept in place the core principle that religion does not excuse for-profit businesses from complying with our nation’s laws. It is now up to Congress to ensure that the Court’s ruling does not interfere with access to critical preventive healthcare services,” they added.

The lawmakers said they are drafting two separate bills in response to the ruling, but didn’t provide further details.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled that Hobby Lobby and other closely held companies can be exempted from a requirement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that they provide contraception free of charge in their insurance plans.

The justices said business owners can be exempted if they have religious objections to birth control, and cited the 1993 RFRA, which says the government "shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.”

“We doubt that the Congress that enacted RFRA — or, for that matter, ACA — would have believed it a tolerable result to put family-run businesses to the choice of violating their sincerely held religious beliefs or making all of their employees lose their existing healthcare plans,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion.

Republicans hailed the ruling as a victory for religious freedom, and other groups that object to the birth-control mandate have vowed to fight in court for more exemptions.

Democrats argue the ruling has put the health of women in jeopardy, and are moving to make birth control an issue in the midterm elections. 

The Obama administration has vowed to look for executive actions that it could take to give women who might be affected by the ruling access to contraception.

Legal scholars said the most immediate response would likely be an emergency regulation from the Department of Health and Human Services making an “accommodation” where women obtain contraception directly from insurers.

Several top Democratic senators have also promised a legislative response.

Senate Majority whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said earlier this week he would be introducing legislation requiring “closely held” companies to tell employees and job applicants they do not plan to cover their contraception.