Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 2, 2015

Democrats, GOP File Dueling Contraception Briefs With SCOTUS

(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Democrats and Republicans have filed opposing amicus briefs in a landmark case the Supreme Court will hear in March challenging a requirement in the Affordable Care Act that employers provide free contraception services.

At issue is whether the mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

The act states that the government cannot substantially burden someone’s exercise of religion unless that burden is the least restrictive means to further a compelling governmental interest.

Nineteen Democrats, led by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., argue in their brief that the health care mandate does not violate the religious freedom law and that employers should not be able to decide whether an employee should have access to contraception services, which they argue are preventive.

“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,” Murray said in a release.

“What’s at stake in this case before the Supreme Court is whether a CEO’s personal beliefs can trump a woman’s right to access free or low-cost contraception under the Affordable Care Act,” Murray continued. “Every American deserves to have access to high quality health care coverage regardless of where they work. And each of us should have the right to make our own medical and religious decisions without being dictated to or limited by our employers. Contraceptive coverage is supported by the vast majority of Americans who understand how important it is for women and families.”

But a group of 15 Republicans led by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, argue that the mandate does violate the religious freedom law.

“It’s unfortunate but not surprising that the Obama Administration continues to trample on the religious freedoms Americans hold dear, and the contraceptive mandate is a sad example of that,” Hatch said in a release. “Just last week the Supreme Court ruled that some religious organizations are exempt from the mandate, but why not all? Religious freedom should not be a political issue. It is one of our country’s founding principles, and I’m hopeful that the Supreme Court will reconfirm that our country will not stand for forcing one’s beliefs onto others who may morally object to them.”

Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, also today filed a separate amicus brief in the case.

“The First Amendment guarantees every American the right to free exercise of religion,” Cruz said. “Yet, the Obama Administration has chosen repeatedly to break the law by giving breaks to big business and Congress, while refusing to grant those same waivers to people with sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Another group of 15 Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and 71 House members also filed brief arguing that the healthcare law violates the religious freedom law.

In the case — the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments March 25 — the religious owners of a Midwest crafts retail chain, Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., is challenging the requirement.

The chain consists of more than 500 stores and has more than 13,000 full-time employees, according to court filings.

The GOP has been intensely critical of the Affordable Care Act, the president’s signature domestic policy accomplishment.

In 2012 the court upheld the individual mandate, the main source of funding for the Affordable Care Act, after several Republican state attorneys general sued that requiring citizens to buy health insurance was unconstitutional.

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