Republicans in the U.S. Senate blocked pro-choice legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) today. The Murray-Udall bill would have nullified June's U.S. Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision. (In the Hobby Lobby ruling late last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that closely-held, private corporations like Hobby Lobby with "sincere religious beliefs" could be exempted from the Affordable Care Act's mandate to provide their employees with health care such as birth control.)
The legislation, colloquially refered to (by Democratic PR people, anyway) as the "Not My Boss' Business Act," would establish an update to the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), passed during the Clinton Era to guarantee personal First Amendment religious rights, to say that corporations were not covered by the law.
June's SCOTUS ruling was not a ruling on the 1st Amendment, but rather, it was the Court's interpretation of RFRA which said the Obamacare mandate to cover contraception violated the Clinton-era law.
(RFRA was a response to a 1990 SCOTUS case, Smith, that said a "generally applicable" and "compelling" government interest trumped personal religious interests of Native Americans who wanted to use mescaline; RFRA didn't overturn Smith, but guarded against its expansion by codifying a judicial test known as "Strict Scrutiny" into laws governing religious liberty. Under RFRA's version of the strict scrutiny standard, the government had to show that the law in question—you can't use mescaline or ... you have to provide contraception, for example—must reflect a "compelling government interest" and must be the only plausible way to achieve the goal; ie: the "least restrictive" means. In Hobby Lobby, the majority didn't deny the compelling interest behind the Obamacare contracepiton mandate, but held there were other ways to ensure that women who worked for companies with religious objections to contraception could get it. (Ha, an argument for a single payer system, ironically.)
"An employer that establishes or maintains a group health plan for its employees ... shall not deny coverage of a specific health care item or service."
Enter Sens. Murray and Udall. Their bill would undo Hobby Lobby by stating: "An employer that establishes or maintains a group health plan for its employees (and any covered dependents of such employees) shall not deny coverage of a specific health care item or service with respect to such employees (or dependents) where the coverage of such item or service is required under any provision of Federal law or the regulations promulgated thereunder." (There's an exemption for "houses of worship.")
Unfortunately for Sens. Murray and Udall, legislation needs 60 votes to make it the floor. While three Republicans voted with the the Democrats (by the way, Democratic leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-NV, voted 'No' on procedural grounds that would keep the bill alive for future consideration), the Murray measure fell short 56-43, largely on party lines. (Murray's staff notes that with Reid actually a "Yes," and pro-choice Sen. Brian Schatz, D-HI, absent today, Murray is only two votes shy of bringing the measure to the floor.)
Watch Sen. Murray's full speech before the vote below, but here's her elevator pitch:
“Affordability of care equals access to care. ... Women should call the shots when it comes to their health care decisions. Not their boss. Not their government. Not anyone else. Period. But we are here today because five men on the Supreme Court disagree. I’d like to remind them that women across the country are watching."