Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., who negotiated a bipartisan budget compromise with Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the House Budget Committee chairman, takes an escalator to the Senate for votes on nominations late Dec. 16, 2013, at the Capitol in Washington. 
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Senate Dems prep contraception legislation

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority had its say on contraception last week. As msnbc’s Irin Carmon reports, Senate Democrats will kick off their legislative response today.
On Wednesday, congressional Democrats plan to introduce the “Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act,” which according to a summary provided to msnbc, “ensures that employers cannot interfere in their employee’s decisions about contraception and other health services.” The bill states that all insurance plans – including those provided by for-profit corporations – must cover contraception, though it keeps the exemption for houses of worship and the “accommodation” for religious nonprofits.
The charge is being led by Washington Sen. Patty Murray, who said at the time of the decision that it “sets a dangerous precedent and takes us closer to a time in history when women had no choice and no voice.” She added, “Since the Supreme Court decided it will not protect women’s access to health care, I will.”
For Democrats and proponents of reproductive rights, this is no small development. Murray will host a press conference this morning to unveil her bill, standing alongside Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Mark Udall (D-Colo.); Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.); as well as the National Women’s Law Center’s Marcia Greenberger, NARAL Pro-Choice America’s Ilyse Hogue, and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Cecile Richards.
A simple, perfunctory rollout this isn’t.
What’s more, Murray’s bill, which will immediately feature a companion measure in the House, will have the White House’s full support. Indeed, the measure was reportedly “put together in consultation with the Obama administration.”
For the Senate Democratic leadership, the question isn’t whether the chamber will tackle this bill, but rather, when. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said yesterday the Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act will be near the top of his to-do list.
“The one thing we’re going to do during this work period, sooner rather than later, is to ensure that women’s lives are not determined by virtue of five white men,” Reid said.
Looking ahead, there are two broad angles to keep an eye on.
The first is whether the bill can pass legal muster. After all, it’s not as if the legislative branch can simply overturn a Supreme Court ruling by passing a bill.
But note that the Hobby Lobby ruling wasn’t based on the First Amendment, but rather, something called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) from the 1990s. The new proposal from Murray and her allies intends to clarify this area of the law; its constitutional merit is not in question.
The second is whether the bill has any chance at all of becoming law this year. Realistically, even the most optimistic proponent of women’s rights would probably concede that a House dominated by far-right Republicans probably won’t approve legislation to make contraception access easier. On the contrary, the GOP-led House widely celebrated the high court’s Hobby Lobby ruling and sees no need to revisit the policy.
But for supporters of the Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act, it’s worth the effort. If there’s bipartisan agreement and the legislation reaches the Oval Office, great. If this joins the list of popular measures killed by congressional Republicans, Democrats and their allies have a campaign issue for the fall.
Either way, this is a fight progressives, and the reproductive rights community in general, are eager to have.
* Disclosure: My wife works for Planned Parenthood but played no role in this piece.