07/09/2014 12:32 pm ET Updated Jul 09, 2014

Dems: Supreme Court Turned Religious Freedom Law 'On Its Head'

The Supreme Court ruled last week that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law passed nearly unanimously by Congress in 1993, protects for-profit corporations from having to cover contraception in their health plans if they morally object to it. But the Democratic members of Congress who helped pass RFRA nearly two decades ago said the conservative justices misapplied the federal law.

"As someone who voted for that act and watched the debate and stood at [former Sen. Ted Kennedy's (D-Mass.)] side, this is ... they have taken this act and stood it up on its head," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said of the Supreme Court at a press conference on Wednesday.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), who also voted for RFRA in 1993, told reporters it was intended to be a "shield" for employers, not a "sword" with which to deny women the full range of contraception coverage mandated by federal law.

RFRA, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, says the government must demonstrate that any law which "burdens the free exercise of religion" is necessary to further a compelling governmental interest and is the least restric­tive means of achieving that interest. The Obama administration argued in Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Burwell that the government has a compelling interest in making sure that women receive the full range of contraception at no out-of-pocket cost in their health insurance plans, along with all other kinds of basic health coverage, because it is necessary for women's reproductive freedom and economic equality. But the Supreme Court decided that the birth control rule in the Affordable Care Act violates the ability of closely held, for-profit companies who object to birth control to exercise their religion.

As a reaction to that ruling, Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act, a bill that would override the Supreme Court's decision and prevent for-profit employers from using RFRA to opt out of federal laws. The bill would prevent companies like Hobby Lobby from refusing to cover any of the 20 forms of contraception that the Affordable Care Act requires them to include in their health insurance plans.

Boxer said the bill would make it clear that the Supreme Court can't use RFRA "to deny women equal health care, or frankly to deny anyone the right to choose their health care."

The bill is expected to move to the Senate floor for a vote as early as next week, but is not likely to be taken up in the GOP-controlled House. While the bill currently has no Republican co-sponsors, Democrats said they are talking to their colleagues across the aisle about the bill and are optimistic about its chances.

"We're gonna get bipartisan sponsors on it and you're going to see some action, so hang on," said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.).



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