Democratic lawmakers in both the House and the Senate have filed two amicus briefs before the Supreme Court, encouraging the justices to preserve Obamacare’s contraceptive coverage requirement for the female employees who work in for-profit companies. The nation’s highest court is expected to rule on two challenges to this aspect of the health reform law, brought by a chain of craft stores and a furniture company, sometime this spring.
Led by Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA), 91 members of the House signed onto a brief arguing that Obamacare’s birth control provision doesn’t represent a violation of religious liberty. They point out that the rule doesn’t require employers to use birth control themselves, and emphasize the widespread societal benefits of providing affordable reproductive health care to U.S. women.
“The importance of the contraceptive care requirement in serving the important governmental goals of public health and welfare, as well as gender equality, far outweighs whatever attenuated imposition this provision may place on any right to free exercise that the Corporations may possess,” the lawmakers write. “In addition, acceptance of the Corporations’ claims would improperly restrict the rights of their employees under federal law.”
On the Senate side, led by Sen. Patty Murry (D-WA), 19 Democrats filed a second brief along similar lines. The senators argue that exempting secular, for-profit corporations from the health law’s contraceptive coverage requirement is “inconsistent” with the way that religious freedom has historically been applied in the United States, and would ultimately infringe on the liberty of workers whose beliefs don’t prevent them from using birth control.
About 14,000 people are employed at Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, the two companies whose lawsuits are up before the Supreme Court this year. More than 40 other for-profit companies filed similar legal challenges against Obamacare’s birth control provision. But the court’s upcoming ruling actually has the potential to impact far more people than just the individuals who work at those businesses. Across the country, millions of women in their childbearing years get their insurance coverage through an employer, either through their own job or through their spouses’ job. Depending how the Supreme Court rules, those women’s birth control access could be subject to the religious beliefs of a boss.
“Allowing a woman’s boss to call the shots about her access to birth control should be inconceivable to all Americans in this day and age, and takes us back to a place in history when women had no voice or choice,” Murray said in a press release on Tuesday.
On the other side of the aisle, however, a group of 15 Republican lawmakers from the House and Senate submitted a brief urging the Supreme Court to take the opposite position. “Religious freedom should not be a political issue,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said in a statement. “I’m hopeful that the Supreme Court will reconfirm that our country will not stand for forcing one’s beliefs onto others who may morally object to them.”