AUGUSTA, Maine — Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree announced Wednesday that she is backing a bill in Congress that would reverse last month’s Hobby Lobby decision by the U.S. Supreme Court and bar employers from denying female employees reproductive health coverage.
Isaac Misiuk, Pingree’s Republican opponent in the November election, said the issue is a distraction from the central problems facing the country: debt and spending.
The proposed bill, called the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act of 2014, is supported by a slew of Democratic representatives, and a Senate version of the bill also is in the works.
The bill would ban for-profit companies with group health insurance plans from using religious beliefs to deny employees coverage for contraception and other services that were newly guaranteed under the Democrat-backed Affordable Care Act. That guarantee was erased when the Supreme Court said that requiring private companies with group health plans to offer free contraception violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The proposed federal legislation would preserve the Affordable Care Act’s exemptions for churches and nonprofit religious organizations such as some hospitals and schools.
Given that the Supreme Court has already ruled 5-4 on the issue and Republicans hold a majority in the U.S. House, success of the bill is unlikely. Rather, it gives Democrats running for office a vehicle to voice their distaste for the court ruling. In a written statement, Pingree said she has co-sponsored the bill because she believes women’s health decisions “should be left to women, and not their bosses.”
“The Supreme Court was wrong to allow the CEO of a corporation to use his personal beliefs to block the coverage of something as basic as birth control,” said Pingree. “Almost all women use birth control at some point in their lives and preventative health care for women should not be a controversial issue. I hope Republican leaders in the House let us vote on this bill.”
Pingree said in a news release that since the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010, American women have saved some $483 million on birth control, and 30 million women are eligible to acquire birth control without a co-payment.
“If we allow for-profit corporations to deny coverage of birth control because of their beliefs, it’s only a matter of time before some employers attempt to refuse coverage of other vital services like immunizations, blood transfusions and HIV treatment, all in the name of religion,” said Pingree.
Misiuk said the Affordable Care Act’s contraception provisions would have threatened freedom of speech and religion if the Supreme Court had not stepped in. He said congressional action on a court decision makes little sense.
“The fact that members of Congress are trying to overturn the Supreme Court is troubling to me,” said Misiuk. “They’re making the court ineffective and useless. They’ve passed and made judgment on this, and now [Congress] is trying to make a law.”
The issue of requiring insurance companies to provide contraception coverage has been a touchstone of controversy both nationally and locally. The Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center in Bangor will hold a sidewalk protest Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon outside the Hobby Lobby store on Stillwater Avenue in Bangor.