Bishops: Senate Dem Bill Empowers Feds to Mandate Abortion Coverage

by Joel Gehrke

A Democratic effort to reverse the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling “does not befit a nation committed to religious liberty “does not befit a nation committed to religious liberty,” according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who noted that the bill would undermine an array of conscience protections beyond the contraception issue.

“Although one of the findings in the bill claims that it is ‘consistent with the Congressional intent in enacting the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act of 1993′ (RFRA), in fact the bill’s operative provisions explicitly forbid application of RFRA whenever the federal government wishes to override the religious freedom rights of Americans regarding health coverage,” the bishops wrote in a Monday letter to the U.S. Senate obtained by National Review Online.

The Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby did not have to provide certain contraceptives to its employees, given the owners’ religious objection to those contraceptives. The decision was rooted in the fact that the contraception mandate issued by Health and Human Services failed to pass the tests set up by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a bill originally championed by liberal stalwarts such as Senator Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), who introduced the bill in the House in 1993.

Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.,) introduced the bill last week, saying it would “ensure that no CEO or corporation can come between people and their guaranteed access to health care.” 

The bishops said that Murray’s bill would empower the government to force employers to pay for abortions. “If, in the future, the executive branch chose to add the abortion pill RU-486, or even elective surgical abortion, including late-term abortion, to the list of ‘preventive services,’ those who object to providing or purchasing such coverage would appear to have no recourse under RFRA or ‘any other provision of Federal law’ that may have protected against this mandate,” they wrote. ”Existing conscience protection against the federal ‘essential health benefits’ mandate, still being defined state-by-state, could be jeopardized as well.”

The Democrats clearly hope that pushing legislation in response to the Hobby Lobby decision will help in the upcoming midterm elections. For instance, Murray allowed Senator Mark Udall (D., Colo.) to introduce the bill alongside her as a lead co-sponsor. Udall, a vulnerable incumbent who is avoiding President Obama, has already attempted to portray his opponent — Representative Cory Gardner (R., Colo.,) — as someone who wants to “outlaw birth control.” 

Gardner, for his part, suggests that Congress allow birth control to be sold over the counter. “Getting the politics out of contraception will improve the lives of women all over the country,” Gardner wrote in a Denver Post column. ”It’s time for a new generation of thinking in Washington — one that puts solving problems ahead of scoring political points.”