DENVER — Senator Mark Udall joined women’s health advocates today to discuss his newest bill, which would effectively overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision allowing “closely held” private companies, specifically craft store Hobby Lobby, to opt-out of employee health coverage that violates their religious beliefs.
“With up to 90 percent of American companies considered ‘closely held,’ the Hobby Lobby decision means that millions of working Americans’ access to crucial health care services may be threatened,” Udall said. “These corporations employ about half of all American workers. That means half of our bosses can now pick and choose which contraception and other health care services work best for our families.”
Udall’s bill, “The Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act,” clarifies that the law the Supreme Court based their decision on — The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) — cannot be used to allow for-profit corporations to limit any legal health care service.
“The men and women who went to work for Hobby Lobby signed up to work at a craft store, not a religious organization,” Udall said. His bill would not impact the coverage exemptions already granted to some non-profit religious organizations like churches.
Cristina Aguilar, the executive director of Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), noted that the bill was fundamentally about the religious liberty of individuals over corporations and about economic equality.
“Sadly the recent decision sent the message that the nearly nearly five million Latinas who have already benefited from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception benefits are entitled to less religious liberty than big corporations,” said Aguilar, adding that the vast majority of Latinas, even married women of faith, use contraception to plan pregnancies and that the primary reason young Latinas cite when they don’t use birth control is cost.
“As a physician, the Hobby Lobby decision ties my hands and puts me in an impossible position,” said Dr. Jennifer Hyer, an OB-GYN who works with low-income women.
“Do I recommend the birth control best suited to the individual woman or the one her boss will approve and thus the one she can afford?”
Udall agreed that the bill isn’t just about birth control. He said it’s also about avoiding some of the concerns raised by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that her court’s decision could have sweeping impacts on workplace nondiscrimination and coverage for everything from vaccines to HIV treatment. Udall said the issue is fundamentally “a matter of privacy” and “the freedom to be left alone.”
The bill, which was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday, has been touted as nonpartisan by both Udall and his Colorado colleague who is supporting it in the House, Congresswoman Diana DeGette. As of this morning, however, no Republican lawmakers had lent their official support to the measure.
Watch Senator Udall discuss his bill in the clip below:
[Photo by Tessa Cheek]