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Campaign Monitor

Shaheen backs legislation aimed at dismantling Hobby Lobby decision

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is backing new legislation that would ban employers from refusing to cover certain mandated health benefits such as birth control. The legislation is a direct response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision that said requiring some companies to cover certain types of birth control violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Senate Democrats introduced the bill yesterday, signaling they are not willing to let the court’s decision stand without a fight. Sens. Mark Udall of Colorado and Patty Murray of Washington state wrote the bill and Shaheen is a co-sponsor, along with 33 other Democrats and two independents. Since the court’s decision came down last week, Shaheen has vocally opposed it and held roundtables, one in New Hampshire last week and another in Washington, D.C., yesterday, with advocates for women’s health care.

“We need to act now to make sure employers aren’t selectively denying health care to their employees. Women must have the access to the health coverage and benefits, including contraception coverage, they have been guaranteed under federal law,” Shaheen said in a statement.

U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter, both Democrats, co-sponsored a companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. In statements, Kuster said the court’s decision strips away women’s access to important health services and Shea-Porter called the decision “disturbing” and urged Congress to act immediately.

Craft store Hobby Lobby, a for-profit company whose owners have a strong religious background, sued the federal government over a mandate within the Affordable Care Act that requires group insurance plans to cover contraceptives. The plaintiffs said being forced to cover four specific types of birth control, including the so-called morning after pill and IUDs, violated their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The court sided with Hobby Lobby in a narrow ruling that says under the act, employers can’t be forced to provide those limited types of coverage. Republicans are calling the ruling a win for religious freedom and evidence that the “one-size-fits-all’ approach of the Affordable Care Act isn’t working. But Democrats say the ruling could jeopardize women’s access to important health care needs.

Part of the controversy around the decision has been whether women who work for organizations such as Hobby Lobby will still have access to those four contraceptives through other means. The Affordable Care Act includes a workaround that requires the insurers to pay for the coverage directly when exempt religious organizations disagree with it. But some religious nonprofits are also challenging that exemption procedure, leaving uncertainty about what avenues women will have to obtain benefits their employers refuse to cover.

The Democrats’ new law says employers who use group health plans can’t deny coverage for certain benefits, despite the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It keeps in place exemptions for churches or other houses of worship as well as nonprofit organizations with religious ties.

“Birth control is a critical health service for women,” the bill says. “In addition to providing health benefits for women, access to birth control has been directly connected to women’s economic success and ability to participate in society equally.”

The bill has little to no chance of being passed into law, as it will face strong opposition in the Republican-led House. But Democrats are rallying around women’s health issues leading up to the fall elections, both in New Hampshire and across the country.

Shaheen’s re-election campaign has highlighted her position on women’s health issues as vastly different from her top Republican opponent, Scott Brown.

A WMUR Granite State Poll released last night shows Shaheen polling much stronger with women than Brown.

As a U.S. senator from Massachusetts in 2012, Brown co-sponsored an amendment that would have allowed employers to exempt themselves from health benefits they held moral objections to, even ones beyond birth control. That amendment failed.

When serving as governor, Shaheen signed a bill into law with broad bipartisan support that required insurers to include coverage of contraceptives on any plan that covered prescription drugs. Yesterday marked the 15th anniversary of Shaheen signing that bill. Beyond introducing the legislation yesterday, Shaheen’s campaign started an online petition last week that aims to “Tell Scott Brown: Women should make their health care decisions with their doctors – not their employers.”

Brown said last week he supports women’s access to health care but agrees with the Supreme Court decision because it protects religious freedom. On WKXL radio, he said his position may be “out of touch with social opinion.”

The New Hampshire Republican Party, by contrast, says that the Affordable Care Act is what truly restricts women’s access to care.

“As the deciding vote for ObamaCare, Senator Shaheen is responsible for millions of women losing their healthcare coverage,” party spokeswoman Lauren Zelt said in a statement. “Shaheen, like many other endangered Senate Democrats, is using dishonest scare tactics regarding women’s health issues to distract from her failed record and support for policies that have limited health care choices.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated which party controls the U.S. Senate. Democrats control the Senate and Republicans control the U.S. House of Representatives. The story has also been updated to include information about Shea-Porter co-sponsoring the House bill.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

Our society of such high intelligence - how do we define a life and how long shall we grasp at straws to find it out (sorry I don't know all the special intellectual & philosophical terms design to distract from something as simple as life death). Whether a person is religious or atheist, scientific or just a plain ole bump on the log person - why is this so difficult. Ooops, sorry I forgot, woman have a right to chose and with me being a man, how would I understand life and death. So silly we are. Oh wait I just got it, maybe if you are "not for profit" that gives a better reason to defend life - now I see.

The real issue here is not Birth Control. It's religious freedom. For profit corporations are not religious institutions and should not be allowed to force the beliefs of one religion on others. it's understood that if you work for a church or nonprofit religious organizations you must follow the tenets of that group. But when you do business with the secular world you need to follow secular rules. If you as a CFO do not believe something is OK in your religious belief You as an individual can opt out. You as a CFO can not.

The real issue here is not Birth Control. It's religious freedom. For profit corporations are not religious institutions and should not be allowed to force the beliefs of one religion on others. it's understood that if you work for a church or nonprofit religious organizations you must follow the tenets of that group. But when you do business with the secular world you need to follow secular rules. If you as a CFO do not believe something is OK in your religious belief You as an individual can opt out. You as a CFO can not.

liberals - always want someone else to pay for their whims - democrats debt, $$$$ 17.5 TRILLION and counting

Apparently, Senator Shaheen isn't aware that The The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, is the basis for the court decision passed by Democrats, and signed by Billy Clinton.

If she's so eager to force a company to provide drugs that terminate a fetus, why isn't she out there forcing companies to pay for drugs that save or extend a life? My friend had chemo therapy recently and the chemo drug being used to save his life ($3,000 per week for 6 weeks) was not covered by our company. Why am I not hearing the democrats protesting the fact he has to pay for his drug himself?

You should do some homework. Plan B does not "terminate a fetus." It will only work before a blastocyst, which consists of less than 500 undifferentiated cells and is less than .5 millimeters across, implants in the uterine wall. It is so NOT a fetus. Once a blastocyst has implanted, Plan B, and similar "morning after" contraceptives, have no effect. We're talking about a "pregnancy" that is less than 5 days along, and many of these pregnancies terminate naturally, due to failure to implant for any number of reasons. Let's put things in perspective here.

and yet it is available without one obstruction - YOU just want somebody to pay for it - Liberals.... sheeeeeesh - $17.5 TRILLION debt and counting

Please understand - I'm much less concerned about these 4 contraceptive types that Hobby Lobby won't cover, and far MORE concerned about the wide open door for anyone with a religious twinge to step through to try to deny all manner of rights to their employees. I also have a thing about accuracy - when people write things that are simply not true (facts not opinions), I have to correct them - for the benefit of others who might be tempted to simply believe those inaccuracies.

Your inaccuracy is that 100% of your argument is forcing somebody else to pay for your whims - nothing more nothing less - to try and call this a religion issue is FALSE

Excuse me but isn't that the premise of the lawsuit Hobby Lobby brought in the first place, that paying for this contraception is against their RELIGION? You really are an uninformed Republican voter aren't you?

100% theatrics - there are about 20 working days left in this Congress. This is a pure theatrical sham of a bill and cant possibly make its way through Congress this session. How long did the failed Shaheen Portman Bill wander through Congress ( 2+ years) only to fail at the hands of democrat Harry Gridlock Reid? Theatrics is a really really awful way to run the country. Shame on the democrats - they are truly ruining this great nation

Tell me again how many times the House Republicans voted to repeal Obamacare? Was it 40 or 50? Theatrics is a really really awful way to run the country.

and ever bill was forwarded to the US Senate where the obstructionist Harry Reid sat on them and never even allowed debate - now who is theatrics?

"The bill has little to no chance of being passed into law, as it will face strong opposition in the Republican-led Senate. "....This court decision has made the left crazy...now the republicans lead the senate? Meds people...Meds!

Too bad you don't know even the basis. The Democrats have the majority in the Senate.

HAHAHAHAHAHA...!!!!! Thanks for the laugh!

LOL....its even funnier today....

Laugh now, but at least the CM corrected its mistake. I recall only one minor correction from you over the years,despite your persistent tendency to rewrite history--on civil rights and the transition of the South to the GOP, to cite one glaring example, and to implicitly and explicitly mis-state and re-interpret the science behind climate change to suit your biases (all the views that fit, as it were), when factually accurate answers are readily at hand to your purely rhetorical posts, with just a little effort.

I see that...I didnt even get a thank you

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