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Senate Democrats Aim To Overturn High Court's Hobby Lobby Ruling


On a Wednesday, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. When the Supreme Court issued a major decision on contraception last month, Democrats started working on a way to nullify it. The court ruled in favor of the owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores, saying that some for-profit corporations may refuse to provide health coverage to pay for contraceptives if an employer has religious objections. A bill that would upend that Hobby Lobby decision could come as early as today. It's unlikely to pass, but the idea is to force Republicans to take a position on an issue Democrats believe works in their favor for the fall elections. NPR's Laura Sullivan reports.

LAURA SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Senate Democrats have been vocal in their criticism of the Supreme Court's recent Hobby Lobby decision which allows closely held companies to refuse to provide birth control as part of their healthcare plans if it's against the owner's religious beliefs. Republicans have been, by comparison, noticeably quiet. They haven't talked much about it at press conferences or on the House or Senate floor. This week Democrats are looking to change that, forcing them to take a vote on a bill that would upend the ruling.

SENATOR BARBARA BOXER: We shouldn't be embracing decisions that make it more difficult for women to get access to birth control.

SULLIVAN: Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California who cosponsored the bill, laid it out for Republican lawmakers on the Senate floor.

BOXER: We're going to see if our colleagues agree. Every senator must take a stand for individual liberty. Women are watching. The American people will hold each of us accountable if we fail to protect their rights.

SULLIVAN: The bill has 45 Democratic cosponsors so far. They're calling it the

Not My Boss' Business Act. But it is unlikely to pass. Democratic operatives say either way, they're writing campaign ads in closely watched states. Justin Barasky is a democratic operative at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

JUSTIN BARASKY: Republicans are in a really tough spot, here.

SULLIVAN: Barasky says the position that Hobby Lobby preserves the religious freedom of business owners plays well to the conservative Republican base but not beyond.

BARASKY: It may be popular when it comes to running in a Republican primary, which a number of these candidates did, but in a general election, it isn't very popular. Women don't like it, and a lot of men don't like it.

SULLIVAN: Barasky and other Democrats believe it could drive voter turnout, especially among the historically unreliable group of young single women voters. Republicans, though, are starting to step into the fight. Yesterday at a press conference, they said Democrats are fear-mongering, saying nothing in Hobby Lobby decision prevents women from accessing birth control. If employers take religious exception to providing it as part of their health care plans, women may just have to pay for it themselves. Senator Kelly Ayotte is a Republican from New Hampshire, and she said Republicans will be offering their own bill this week that will emphasize that employers cannot prohibit employees from using birth control and that will create a commission on how to provide women more access to contraception.

SENATOR KELLY AYOTTE: I really am disappointed that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would try to score election-year points by misrepresenting what the Hobby Lobby decision stands for. Bosses will not have the authority to restrict a woman's access to contraception.

SULLIVAN: However the Hobby Lobby decision is interpreted, both Republicans and Democrats will have to go on the record this week over whether or not they think it should stand. Laura Sullivan, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Sullivan is an NPR News investigative correspondent whose work has cast a light on some of the country's most significant issues.