US Senate effort to nullify Hobby Lobby ruling falls short

Posted by David Lightman on July 16, 2014 

The Senate on Wednesday was unable to advance legislation aimed at easing the Supreme Court’s June birth control decision in the Hobby Lobby case.

The Democratic-authored bill, which would restore contraceptive coverage for women even if their employers had religious objections, won 56 votes, four short of the 60 needed. Fifty-one Democrats, two independents and three Republicans voted to limit debate. Forty-two Republicans voted no, as did Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada. Reid’s vote was a procedural maneuver. He backs the measure, but voted no so he could move to reconsider at a later time. One Democrat was absent.

The vote was no surprise. Republicans and Democrats had battled over the measure all week.

The effort got a boost Wednesday from the White House, which said it strongly supports the bill.

“The Supreme Court’s rulings in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell, allow some employers to now withhold contraception coverage from their employees based on their own religious beliefs that their employees may not share,” the administration said in a statement. It added it “believes that women should make personal health care decisions for themselves, rather than their employers deciding for them.”

N.C. Sen. Richard Burr was among the Republicans who voted no. The state’s other senator, Kay Hagan, a Democrat, supported the measure and voted yes.

“I remain shocked that in 2014 we are still debating whether or not employers can intrude on their employees’ access to contraception,” Hagan said. “I am very disappointed a minority in the Senate blocked debate on restoring full access to contraceptive coverage and allowing women to make their own health care decisions without an employer’s interference. Whether a woman uses birth control is between her and her doctor, and is not her boss’ business.”

Senate Democratic leaders have been adamant the June Hobby Lobby ruling needs to be eased. “Women should not be denied health care because Republican men are too afraid to debate the issue on the Senate floor,” said Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

But a Republican woman, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., is leading an effort to consider an alternative.

She said she plans legislation that will “reaffirm that no employer can prohibit an employee from purchasing an FDA-approved drug or medical device, including contraception.”

The bill also is “going to focus on expanding access for women to have access to contraception. And so we have a sense of the Senate and we are asking the FDA to undertake a study to determine whether over-the-counter purchase of contraception is safe and effective for adult women so that we can look at this issue to see, are there ways we can give greater access for women to purchase contraceptives? So that will be included in our bill.”

Finally, she said, “we want to increase affordability” by giving people “greater rights to use health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts.”

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