U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) Tuesday spoke on the Senate floor and led a group of Senate Democrats in filing an amicus brief in support of the government’s position in the case of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., which is currently pending before the Supreme Court of the United States. The brief filed by Senator Murray and her colleagues provides an authoritative account of the legislative history and intent underlying the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Senators urge the Supreme Court to reverse the Tenth Circuit’s expansion of RFRA’s scope and purpose as applied to secular, for-profit corporations and their shareholders seeking to evade the contraceptive-coverage requirement under the ACA.
As Members of Congress at the time of RFRA’s debate and passage, Senator Murray and her fellow signatories are uniquely situated to explain the legislative intent underlying RFRA—that in passing RFRA, Congress did not intend to, nor did it, extend free-exercise rights to secular, for-profit corporations. Similarly, as Members of Congress during the debate and passage of the ACA, Senator Murray and her colleagues are most qualified to explain how exempting secular, for-profit corporations from the ACA’s contraceptive-coverage requirement is inconsistent with the plain language and legislative intent of RFRA, and undermines the government’s compelling interest in providing women access to preventive health care under the ACA, including contraceptive-coverage.
Senator Murray was joined in filing the brief by the following: Senators Baucus, Boxer, Brown, Cantwell, Cardin, Durbin, Feinstein, Harkin, Johnson, Leahy, Levin, Markey, Menendez, Mikulski, Reid, Sanders, Schumer, and Wyden.
Sen. Murray’s remarks as prepared:
“41 years ago last week, just about 400 yards from where I’m standing today, the course of history for women in the United States was changed forever. After over a century of struggle – a new generation of American women had access to safe and legal abortions. With one case, American women had gained the ability to make their own decisions, about their own health care and their own bodies.
“At a time when some members of this body were far too young to remember, women stood up to the restrictive laws of states and the federal government — and to the men who wrote them. Now, I’d like to think that after four decades many of those who want to make women’s health care decisions for them have come to grips with the fact that Roe v. Wade is settled law. But unfortunately, that notion is quickly shattered with one look at legislatures across the country and efforts right here in Congress. In fact, tomorrow the House of Representatives is slated to vote on their misleadingly named, ‘No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.’ This bill severely undermines a woman’s access to insurance coverage of comprehensive health care, while failing to allow her to get the care she needs – even when her health is at risk. It is nothing more than an attempt to eliminate access to abortion services, while restricting a woman’s ability to make personal decisions about her own care.
“I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. The truth is that the tide of these politically-driven, extreme, and unconstitutional laws continues to rise. In 2013, our nation saw yet another record-breaking year of state legislatures passing restrictive legislation barring women’s access to abortion services. In fact, in the past three years, the United States has enacted more of these restrictions than in the previous ten years combined. This means that now more than ever it is our job to protect this decision for women, to fight for women’s health, and to ensure that women’s health does not become a political football.
“For this reason, today – along with 18 other members of my caucus – I will file a brief with the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. And just like the many attempts before this case, there are those out there who would like the American public to believe that this conversation is anything BUT an attack on women’s health care. To them, it’s a debate about ‘freedom,’ except of course the freedom for women to access care. It’s no different than when we are told that attacks on abortion rights aren’t an infringement on a women’s right to choose – they’re about religion or state’s rights. Or when we’re told that restricting emergency contraception isn’t about limiting women’s ability to make our own family planning decisions – it’s about protecting pharmacists. Or like just last week, when we were told that a certain former Republican Governor’s comments about women’s ‘libido’ was a ‘tone’ issue, rather than a direct reflection of the Republican party’s misguided and arcane policies.
“The truth is this is about contraception. This is an attempt to limit a women’s ability to access care. This is about women.
“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. In fact, contraception was included as a required preventive service in the Affordable Care Act on the recommendation of the independent, nonprofit Institute of Medicine and other medical experts because it is essential to the health of women and families. And after many years of research, we know ensuring access to effective birth control has a direct impact on improving the lives of women and families in America.
“We have been able to directly link to declines in maternal and infant mortality, reduced risk of ovarian cancer, better overall health outcomes for women, and far fewer unintended pregnancies and abortions – which is a goal we all should share.
“But 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. 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.
“In weighing this case my hope is that the Court realizes that women working for private companies should be afforded the same access to medical care, regardless of who signs their paycheck. We can’t allow for-profit, secular, corporations or their shareholders to deny female employees’ access to comprehensive women’s health care, under the guise of a ‘religious exemption.’ It’s as if we’re saying that because you are a CEO or shareholder in a corporation, your rights are more important than your employees who happen to be women.
“That is a slippery slope that could lead to employers cutting off coverage for childhood immunizations –if they object to that, pre-natal care for children born to unmarried parents – if they thought that was wrong, and an employee’s ability to access HIV treatment.
“I am proud to be joined in this effort by 18 other Senators who were here when Congress enacted the religious protections through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993 – and who were also here when Congress made access to women’s health available through the Affordable Care Act in 2010. They are Senators who know that Congress never intended for a corporation – or furthermore, its shareholders – to restrict a women’s access to preventive health care.
“Because we all know that improving access to birth control is good health policy and good economic policy. We know it will mean healthier women, healthier children and healthier families. And we know it will save money for businesses and consumers.
“So today we are taking another step forward to uphold the promise we made women and provide this access broadly. And I believe our nation will be better for it.”