Thirty-five U.S. Senators have introduced legislation to strip religious freedom protections from businesses with objections to mandatory insurance coverage for contraceptives and abortifacient drugs. The senators are backed by both the White House and abortion rights groups. The bill summary objected that the Supreme Court allows some corporations to “get out of complying with the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage requirement if they have religious beliefs against birth control.” The summary, from bill co-sponsor Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), claims that the bill would “stop employers from being able to impose their religious beliefs on their employees.” “The 13,000 Hobby Lobby employees took a job to work at an arts and crafts store, not a church or synagogue,” Murray wrote. The Supreme Court on June 30 ruled that federal religious freedom protections required the Obama administration to accommodate the objections of the owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods Services. The two closely-held businesses, run by Protestant and Mennonite owners, objected to aspects of a Department of Health and Human Services rule that require them to provide coverage for drugs that they believe can cause abortions. The mandate’s requirement to cover sterilization procedures and contraceptive drugs, including abortifacients, is particularly burdensome on Catholic businesses and organizations. Many of these organizations, along with the U.S. bishops, welcomed the court’s 5-4 decision in favor of Hobby Lobby in hopes it would strengthen their religious freedom and protect them from the massive fines intended to penalize non-compliance. However, the new bill’s lead co-sponsors, Murray and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), contended that the decision limited women’s health care options. The new bill is called the Protect Women's Health from Corporate Interference Act. “My common-sense proposal will keep women's private health decisions out of corporate board rooms, because your boss shouldn't be able to dictate what is best for you and your family,” Udall said July 9. Murray said that “after five justices decided last week that an employer's personal views can interfere with women's access to essential health services, we in Congress need to act quickly to right this wrong.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said he would bring the bill to a vote next week. All 35 co-sponsors of the Senate bill are Democrats. The New York Times reports that the bill was drafted in consultation with the Obama administration. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said she will introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives. She said sixty members of Congress have said they will co-sponsor the bill, ABC News reports. The bill is supported by NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the political arm of the largest abortion provider in the U.S. The U.S. bishops on June 30 said the Hobby Lobby decision recognized “that Americans can continue to follow their faith when they run a family business.” “Now is the time to redouble our efforts to build a culture that fully respects religious freedom,” they said, noting that the court has not yet decided whether federal religious freedom protections apply to Catholic charities, hospitals or schools. “We continue to hope that these great ministries of service, like the Little Sisters of the Poor and so many others, will prevail in their cases as well.” The Hobby Lobby decision, which benefitted non-Catholic Christians, prompted outpourings of anti-Catholic sentiment in part because the five justices in the majority identify as Catholics.
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