Hillary Clinton capitalizes on Hobby Lobby ruling

Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during the presentation of the German translation of her book 'Hard Choices' on July 6, 2014 in Berlin, Germany.
Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during the presentation of the German translation of her book 'Hard Choices' on July 6, 2014 in Berlin, Germany.

The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling may be a blow to the left, but Hillary Clinton and her supporters clearly believe she can use the decision to rally her base.

The potential 2016 candidate has repeatedly spoken out about the ruling, calling it a “really bad slippery slope” that is “deeply disturbing.” And on Monday afternoon, the Ready for Hillary political action committee started a petition asking Americans to “stand with Hillary” to demonstrate “you’re not going to let companies take away a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions.”

The Supreme Court ruled last week that closely held corporations like Hobby Lobby, whose Christian owners oppose certain kinds of birth control that they see as abortifacients, are not required to provide employees with health insurance that provide this co-pay contraception, as the Affordable Care Act had required.

In many ways, harping on this ruling is good politics for Clinton, who could become the nation’s first woman president. Polls suggest that most people – especially a majority of women and Democrats – believe for-profit companies should be required to cover the cost of employees' birth control. That lets Clinton cozy up to the base without treading into the uncomfortable waters of economic issues -- which, as of late, have proven tough for her as a multi-millionaire.

Seth Bringman, the communications director for the group urging Clinton to run for president in 2016, said thousands have signed the petition so far and that the Hobby Lobby case is an issue “salient to our supporters.” Bringman said the purpose of the petition is both to build upon the political action committee’s existing database of email addresses in the event that Clinton does decide to make a bid for the Oval Office, and to find out more about what motivates her supporters.

Ironically, the former first lady’s husband, Bill Clinton, was the one to sign the Religious Freedom Restoration Act – which the Hobby Lobby case centered on -- into law in 1993.

Hillary Clinton, when asked about her husband’s approval of that law, said at the Aspen Ideas Festival that at the time of its passage, there were legitimate cases of discrimination against religions.

“The people who wanted to build a church, or a synagogue, or a mosque in a community and they fit into the zoning, but the community was saying ‘We don’t want one of those in our community,’” the former secretary of state said. She added that the Supreme Court ruling is “certainly a use” of the law “that no one foresaw.”

Meanwhile, potential 2016 Republican candidates are in a tricky position, focusing instead on the religious liberty aspect of the case versus the impact on women and reproductive rights – perhaps not wanting to bring back reminders of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock. In the so-called GOP “autopsy” report following Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012, the party acknowledged it needed to engage in extensive outreach to several groups, including women.

The usually outspoken New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – considered one of the more moderate GOP hopefuls -- has declined to weigh in, telling CNBC “Why should I give an opinion as to whether they were right or wrong? At the end of the day [the Supreme Court] did what they did.” Republicans Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio hailed the decision as a major with for religious freedom, while Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said the ruling meant Americans won’t have to worry about “big government intervention.

Other Democrats running in the 2014 midterms are also capitalizing on the ruling. Ohio gubernatorial candidate Ed Fitzgerald went after Gov. John Kasich – to criticize the ruling and promising to stand up against Kasich’s “extreme restrictions on women’s healthcare.” Similarly, Democratic Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis used the ruling to criticize her GOP opponent Greg Abbott.