Americans United for Separation of Church and State today announced its support for federal legislation designed to restore working women’s access to contraceptives, a right placed in jeopardy by a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The bill, known as the “Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act of 2014,” is in response to a June 30 Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. In that decision, the high court voted 5-4 that certain closely held corporations have a religious freedom right to refuse to provide birth control in employee health-care plans.
The court based its decision on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a 1993 law designed to protect religious minorities from overreaching government interference in theological matters.
“The Supreme Court thoroughly botched the Hobby Lobby case and has distorted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in pursuit of a reactionary agenda,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It’s up to Congress to set things right. This bill is a good first step.”
Added Lynn, “The reality is that the use of birth control is widespread. It’s a vital component of women’s health care. No alleged ‘religious freedom’ right of a corporation should trump that. Frankly, it’s depressing that we’re even having this conversation in the year 2014.”
The bill, introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), states that an employer that provides a group health care plan “shall not deny coverage of a specific health care item or service” that is otherwise required under federal law. The measure will be introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives as well.
Americans United says the proposed legislation, while it may not be the ultimate solution to the high court’s misinterpretation of RFRA, is an important stopgap measure to ensure that millions of women don’t lose access to birth control merely because their bosses oppose it on religious grounds.