WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and 17 other Senate Democrats on Tuesday weighed in on a Supreme Court case that pits a new federal insurance mandate for contraceptive coverage against a private corporation’s refusal on grounds it violates the owners’ religious beliefs.
The lawmakers filed an amicus brief in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. The case is one of two the high court will hear on March 25 that challenge the requirement under the Affordable Care Act that employers include birth-control coverage among a list of mandatory preventive services.
The crux of legal question in both cases is whether private businesses, not just individuals, have protected religious rights.
Hobby Lobby, a national chain of crafts stores based in Oklahoma City, argued providing free birth-control coverage violated the beliefs of the privately held company’s Christian owners. Specifically, they contend the health law’s mandate conflicts with the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. prohibiting the government from “substantially burden(ing) a person’s exercise of religion.”
Murray and the Democrats say the 1993 law plainly did not apply to secular, for-profit corporations. Murray planned to speak on the Senate floor Tuesday to denounce CEOs who she said use their personal beliefs to dictate women’s health care.
“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,” according to Murray’s prepared remarks.
Among those joining Murray in signing the amicus brief are all three of her fellow Senate Democratic leaders — Harry Reid, Dick Durbin and Chuch Schumer — as well as Ron Wyden of Oregon and Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats.
The other Supreme Court case, Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, concerns a broader question of whether the contraceptive mandate violates First Amendment rights of family-owned businesses, as opposed to that of the owners.