About a week ago, Senate Democrats announced their legislative response
to the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling, which empowered employers to limit contraception access to women employees. The Dems' bill, called the "Protect Women's Health From Corporate Interference Act," would require
insurance plans to cover birth control, just as the ACA intended, though houses of worship would be exempt and religious non-profits would be accommodated.
The good news is, for all the kvetching I do about Republicans refusing to govern, there is an actual GOP alternate proposal
. The bad news is, the Republican bill is so meaningless, it's rather amazing the Senate minority was even willing to unveil it (thanks to my colleague Kate Osborn for the heads-up).
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Republicans plan to put forward a bill that would ensure employers cannot prevent their employees from obtaining contraception. "We plan to introduce legislation this week that says no employer can block any employee from legal access to her FDA-approved contraceptives," McConnell said. "There's no disagreement on that fundamental point."
Perhaps realizing that the entirety of the Senate Republican leadership team is made up exclusively of white Christian men, McConnell recruited Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), a loyal party soldier, to help make the case for the GOP plan.
"I've been deeply disturbed by the misrepresentations that are being made about what the Hobby Lobby decision means," she said
. "There is nothing in the Hobby Lobby ruling that allows a company to stop a woman from getting or filling a prescription for contraception."
But it's worth pausing to appreciate exactly what this proposal intends to do. In a word, the goal is to do nothing.
By "nothing," I don't mean the Republican measure is inadequate or intended to push policy in a misguided direction. Rather, I mean the GOP plan actually does nothing.
The GOP bill would change nothing, because women can already legally access contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
You're going to think I'm kidding, but I'm entirely serious. The Republican plan, as unveiled today, would allow women to buy contraception. That's it. That's the plan. You spend money on birth control and then you receive birth control in exchange.
The idea, apparently, is for GOP senators to say, "See? Even if your employer opposes contraception, your boss can't stop you from literally going to the store and paying for medicine you may want to voluntarily purchase."
Put another way, the Senate Republican alternative to the Democratic bill is effectively a reminder to the country: birth control is legal and you can buy it.
Except, if GOP senators see this as a credible response to the Hobby Lobby ruling, they're badly confused as to the point of the controversy. At issue here is what's going to be covered -- or in some cases, not covered -- as part of Americans' insurance plans. The Affordable Care Act intends to make contraception access a standard feature of coverage; conservatives on the Supreme Court said private, for-profit corporations can be excluded from meeting this standard if they see birth control as morally offensive.
What does the Senate Republican bill have to do with this dilemma? Absolutely nothing -- because for the GOP, the Supreme Court's ruling was terrific and there is no problem to solve.