Dozens of antiabortion protestors gathered outside the U.S. Capitol cheered news that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the contraceptive mandate in the federal health care law for some companies.
Moments later, the rally participants chanted: “Hobby Lobby wins!” Lori Windham, senior counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who spoke at the rally, called the 5-4 decision “a complete victory.”
“I think this decision will be very important for other groups that are challenging the same mandate,” Windham said in an interview with The National Law Journal outside the Supreme Court. Windham and the Becket Fund hope to be back before the Supreme Court on similar challenges to the contraceptive mandate, pending in lower courts, by Little Sisters of the Poor and Eternal Word Television Network.
“I think those courts were watching this decision very carefully, and I’m hopeful, seeing the Supreme Court protected Hobby Lobby, that they will protect these other ministries as well,” Windham said. “I think this decision shows us that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is alive and well, and federal agencies need to consider it carefully when they are creating regulations and rules.”
Democratic lawmakers pledged to push for a fix, while a White House spokesman and progressive groups decried the high court’s ruling.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who filed an amicus brief in the case with 18 other senators, said in a statement that in the coming days she “will work with my colleagues and the administration to protect this access, regardless of who signs your paycheck.”
“Every American deserves to have access to high-quality health care coverage and each of us should have the right to make our own medical and religious decisions without being dictated to or limited by our employers,” Murray said.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that Congress “needs to take action to solve this problem that’s been created” by the ruling. “Today’s decision jeopardizes the health of women who are employed by these companies,” Earnest said. On the chances of divided Congress passing a fix, Earnest said: “We’ll see.”
“We’ll consider whether or not there’s an opportunity for the president to take some other action that could mitigate this problem as well,” Earnest said. “We’re still assessing the decision, so it’s too early to state what kind of action would be available to the president or what kind of action he’d even consider at this point.”
House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the decision an “outrageous step against the rights of America’s women” and a “serious blow” to their ability to make health decisions. “Although the court restricted their ruling to ‘closely held’ companies, this ruling will immediately affect the lives of millions of women across the country,” Pelosi said in a statement. “Over 90 percent of America’s businesses are ‘closely held,’ including such large employers as Koch Industries and Bechtel.”
Marcia Greenberger, copresident of the National Women’s Law Center, called the decision “a hard pill for women to swallow.”
“The broad sweep that was given to this statute in favor of bosses at the price of their employees was absolutely without precedent,” Greenberger said. “Never before has this court suggested that [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] would have this kind of sweep and effect.”
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the “decision from five male justices is a direct attack on women and our fundamental rights. This ruling goes out of its way to declare that discrimination against women isn’t discrimination.”
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who joined an amicus brief in support of the Hobby Lobby, said he was glad to see the Supreme Court rule on part of “the single worst piece of legislation to pass in the last 50 years.”
“Today’s Supreme Court decision makes clear that the Obama administration cannot trample on the religious freedoms that Americans hold dear,” McConnell said in a statement.