By Elise Viebeck - 07/08/14 06:00 AM EDT
Democrats want to lure Republicans into a fight over birth control with legislation to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision that ObamaCare may not require certain businesses to include contraception in their employee health coverage.
At least three bills are being crafted in the House and Senate to amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which the high court used as the basis for its ruling that the contraception mandate violated federal law.
Democrats are expected to introduce the measures prior to Congress’s August recess as part of an effort to recalibrate the party’s election-year messaging. Their hope is to turn out female voters by casting the court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby as a strike against reproductive rights.
“Last week’s decision reignited a conversation across the country reminding women once again that their access to healthcare has become a political issue, when it should be a basic right,” said Marcy Stech, national press secretary for EMILY’s List.
“It will drive women to the polls this November to vote for the women candidates who are on the right side of women’s access to basic healthcare.”
“This will be a huge motivator for women in the fall and a liability for Republican candidates up and down the map,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) spokesman Justin Barasky added.
Republican campaign officials say they’re not worried and challenged the idea that the court ruling can help individual Democrats who supported the healthcare law and are considered vulnerable next year.
“The polling shows that when we fight back, women believe in what we’re saying,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said.
“The Dems are a one-trick pony, and waging a false war on women is the only way they believe they can win. If you don’t fight back, why wouldn’t the voters believe them? Those days are over, and we’ve been very open and aggressive with our messaging and tactics,” Kukowski said.
At least three pieces of legislation being prepared by Democrats would help maintain access to free birth control for women affected by the court’s ruling, though staffers provided few details on Monday.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is leading the push in the upper chamber to craft a broad bill to protect employees’ access to birth control coverage.
A separate measure in the works from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) would require employers to disclose whether prescription birth control is covered in their company’s health plan, a rule that could land companies in hot water if they opt out.
In the House, Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) are each working on legislation to amend the RFRA in response to the ruling.
None of the bills will have the votes to pass the House, but Democrats don’t mind.
They reason that the GOP position will place Republicans in a negative light, just in time for midterm elections that put the Senate majority in play.
The new effort builds on a strategy Democrats were already carrying forward. The DSCC has been campaigning against several GOP Senate candidates for supporting “personhood” bills that would ban common forms of birth control.
The surge of energy is welcome on the left during an election cycle that poses serious challenges for Democrats.
Republicans are expected to maintain control of the House and need only six seats to win control of the Senate.
As a result, Democratic lawmakers and their allies are focused on strategies that will energize women, especially single women, who are friendly to their priorities and may not otherwise vote in a non-presidential year.
Groups like EMILY’s List and the advocacy arm of Planned Parenthood were already working to engage female voters in states with competitive races prior to the Hobby Lobby ruling.
But each organization has taken new steps since last week. Planned Parenthood Action Fund launched a text helpline for women affected by the court’s decision on Monday.
The strategy echoes the 2012 rallying cry of a “war on women,” when Democrats and liberal groups highlighted Republican candidates’ controversial statements about rape and abortion.
That strategy contributed to the defeat of two GOP Senate candidates who were early favorites and helped set the tone for an election in which women sided with President Obama by a margin of 11 points.
By comparison, when Republicans routed Democrats in 2010, women’s support was split almost evenly between the two parties.
It’s unclear how the Obama administration intends to respond to the Hobby Lobby ruling.
Federal health officials could pursue regulations requiring insurers or the government to pay for birth control for women whose employers opt out of the mandate.
But for now, despite pressure from liberal groups, the White House is putting the onus on Congress. The tactic amounts to inviting the GOP to a legislative fight.
“The best way to resolve this situation is for Congress to pass a law,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday.
“I am not naive about the difficulty that Congress has in taking steps like this, but … our first priority is for Congress to take action, and that’s what we would like to see.”