Politics & Government

WA Senate Democrats aim to negate Hobby Lobby decision

Democrats in the state Senate are looking to fight the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, and they want to make sure that voters know about their plans ahead of next month’s election.

A group of Senate Democrats said Thursday that they will introduce legislation next year aimed at ensuring women can access contraception in Washington, even if those women’s employers object to paying for certain types of birth control on religious grounds.

The proposed legislation would say that “barrier-free access to birth control remains a fundamental right” and that limiting access to it violates the state’s anti-discrimination laws, according to a press release from the senators.

Democratic state senators Karen Keiser, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, David Frockt, Kevin Ranker and Jamie Pedersen said they plan to introduce the bill during the 2015 legislative session, which begins in January.

“We’re not really addressing the insurance issue in this, but we are addressing the issue of discrimination against women,” said Keiser, who is from Kent. “The Hobby Lobby decision affects one class of people, one group, and all of them have female as their gender.”

“Companies don’t have to offer health insurance at all, but if they do they cannot discriminate,” Keiser said.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that closely held companies can’t be required to pay for for various forms of contraception if they object for religious reasons. Such a requirement would violate the corporations’ religious freedom, the court majority said.

The decision marked the first time the high court had declared that businesses can hold religious views under federal law, the Associated Press reported.

In Washington state, the Democrats working on the legislation are aiming to make the Hobby Lobby decision an issue in the November election.

In a press release Thursday, the senators emphasized that their bill will go nowhere next year if Democrats are unable to take control of the state Senate this fall. They cited how Republican senators blocked action last year on a bill that would have required insurers that cover maternity care to also cover abortion.

“... If (state Senate) Republicans such as Andy Hill, Mark Miloscia and Steve O’Ban are elected or re-elected this year, it is unlikely that any progress on ensuring individual reproductive choices will be achieved,” according to the Democrats’ press release.

Democrats need to pick up two seats this fall to gain control of the state Senate, which is controlled by a mostly Republican majority.

Hill, one of the Republican senators mentioned in the Democrats’ press release, said in a statement Thursday that he thinks their idea to limit the reach of the Hobby Lobby decision “sounds like a reasonable proposal.”

“I am a firm supporter of family planning and women’s health and look forward to working more on it in the upcoming session,” Hill said in the statement.

Yet one of the other senators questioned how relevant the issue is to to his constituents.

O’Ban, a Republican from University Place, said Thursday that voters in his district aren’t concerned right now about birth control and the Hobby Lobby decision.

“They may want to make it an issue, but it’s not an issue for the voters of the 28th district,” O’Ban said.

O’Ban said that his caucus has been focused on “the issues that voters really care about.”

“That is education, job growth and helping government live within its means,” O’Ban said.

Pedersen, a lawyer from Seattle who is one of the Democratic senators working on the Hobby Lobby legislation, said the issue of access to contraception is one many voters care deeply about.

Pedersen said some of the Senate races “offer a very clear contrast between men who don’t believe in birth control, who fundamentally oppose contraception,” and women who believe the opposite. He mentioned O’Ban’s race in the 28th Legislative District and Miloscia’s race in the 30th Legislative District as his primary examples.

O’Ban is facing Democratic state Rep. Tami Green, while Miloscia is up against Democrat Shari Song. Both women have been endorsed by the political arm of Planned Parenthood. Pro-choice groups have also endorsed Hill’s opponent, Democrat Matt Isenhower.