WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats were unable to advance legislation on Wednesday that would have restored contraceptive coverage for women even if their employers had religious objections.
The Senate, voting largely along party lines, fell short of the 60 needed to bring the bill to the floor for debate. The bill was written in response to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in June that companies like Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby could object — on religious grounds — to providing the coverage mandated under the Affordable Care Act.
The justices found that the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act provided closely held corporations with protection from government requirements that violated their religious beliefs if the government’s goal could be achieved otherwise.
The bill would have carved out an exemption from the 1993 law for Obamacare by stating that no federal law could permit employers from shirking ACA mandates.
Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., voted for the bill while Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., opposed it.
“I believe women should control their health care decisions, not employers or insurance company bureaucrats,” Pryor said in a statement. “This bill allows women and their families to make health care decisions in accordance with their own religious beliefs. Additionally, it preserves the exemption made for churches and other religious nonprofits to ensure they do not have to provide coverage that violates their religious beliefs.”
Boozman saw it differently: “This effort by Senate Democrats is another attack on religious liberty. I will continue to oppose legislation that threatens the rights of Americans to freely practice their religious beliefs.”
The vote was 56-43, four short of the 60 required to advance the bill. Three Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — voted with the Democrats in support of the bill.
The Hobby Lobby decision has become a major talking point in the Arkansas Senate race with Pryor and Republican challenger Rep. Tom Cotton staking out opposing views — and the vote Wednesday reignited the issue.
“Today’s vote reminds us that Republican Senate candidates across the country support radical measures that would block birth control and roll back women’s health care rights even further than the Hobby Lobby decision did,” said Justin Barasky, a spokesman at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
David Ray, a spokesman for Cotton’s campaign, said the vote demonstrates that Pryor will support Obamacare at any cost “even if it means trampling the religious freedoms of Christians who have deeply held religious beliefs.”
“When it came time to choose between what Arkansans wanted him to do and what President Obama wanted him to do, Senator Pryor sided with Obama,” he said.