Birth control ruling sparks political clash
Tuesday, July 01, 2014 11:00 AM
WASHINGTON - Republicans called it a win for religious freedom. The decision of the Supreme Court, they said, is further evidence the country's new health care law is deeply flawed.
Appeals Court ruled for Grote in similar case
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in November 2013, ruled in favor of Grote Industries of Madison whose Catholic owners filed a lawsuit challenging a portion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. As part of the ruling, Grote would not have to pay fines for not meeting the requirements of the health care act.
Grote filed suit in federal court last year requesting the injunction due to its owners' religious beliefs.
Grote argued that the federal government could not infringe on a person's exercise of religious freedom based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. If the government can prove a compelling governmental interest, then the RFRA can be overruled.
However, judges Joel Flaum and Diane Sykes felt there was no compelling government interest.
"We hold that the plaintiffs - the business owners and their companies - may challenge the mandate. We further hold that compelling them to cover these services substantially burdens their religious-exercise rights," Sykes wrote in the opinion.
Judge Ilana Rovner wrote a dissenting opinion:
"So it is that, in the name of free exercise of religion, the court has relieved two secular corporations from a statutory obligation to provide health insurance to their employees that includes coverage of contraceptive care for the companies' female employees," Rovner wrote.
"Realistically, the only religious interests at stake are those of the corporations' owners - their faith is the source of the objection to contraception."
The claims of victory arrived almost immediately after the high court ruled Monday that some companies need not provide contraception to women as required by President Barack Obama's signature domestic policy achievement. Yet there's a risk for the GOP in crowing too loudly.
Republicans for years have tried to make inroads with two groups that tend to favor Democrats: women and younger voters. And as popular as the court's decision will be with the Republican base, it's likely to be just as unpopular this year and into 2016 with those who depend on insurance to pay for birth control - a group that includes women and younger voters.
"The thought of your boss telling you what kind of birth control you can and can't get is offensive and it certainly is motivating to women to vote," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which plans to spend several million dollars this year to campaign for Senate candidates.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that some companies can hold religious objections allowing them to opt out of health law's birth control coverage requirement. While the ruling does not address the heart of the Affordable Care Act, it's a setback for Democrats and amplifies a longstanding argument from conservatives that the law they call "Obamacare" intrudes on religious liberties as part of a larger government overreach.
"This is a clear and decisive defeat against Obamacare and a victory for the rights of all Americans," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a fundraising appeal distributed less than three hours after the Supreme Court ruling.
Republican leaders such as Priebus were careful to avoid mentioning the impact on women and their reproductive rights, underscoring the balance the GOP must strike as it works to improve its image among women. The party is still recovering from a series of insensitive comments made by GOP candidates in the 2012 election, including Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin, whose campaign crumbled after he said women's bodies were able to avoid pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape."
"Republicans have to be careful about not appearing as though they're anti-contraception. This is a constitutional issue," said Katie Packer Gage, a GOP strategist whose firm advises Republicans on navigating women's issues.
Polls suggest that most people - and a larger majority of women - think for-profit companies should be required to cover the cost of birth control. A Gallup survey conducted in May found that 90 percent of Americans, including 88 percent of Republicans, see the use of birth control as morally acceptable.
Democrats said the ruling would shine a spotlight on access to birth control and dovetail with a strategy by the party to mobilize female voters on issues such as raising the minimum wage and supporting pay equity for women.
In Colorado, for example, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall's first TV ad noted Republican Rep. Cory Gardner's past sponsorship of a bill to outlaw abortions in cases of rape and incest and support for an effort to grant an embryo the same legal rights as a person, which could have outlawed some types of birth control and all abortions. Gardner now says he opposes the "personhood" measure.
In Iowa, Democrats have signaled plans to highlight Republican Joni Ernst's support of a personhood amendment to the state's constitution. In Michigan, Democrats backing Senate candidate Gary Peters have sought to tarnish Republican Terri Lynn Land's record on reproductive rights, in April declaring, "As a woman, I might know a little bit more about women than Gary Peters."
It won't be clear until November whether women will respond to such appeals.
Fewer young women typically vote in midterm elections compared with presidential years. And they are particularly disengaged from this year's races: 63 percent of women under age 30 in an AP-GfK poll conducted before the ruling reported they "don't care very much" which party wins control of Congress. Just 21 percent said they were certain to vote in November.
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