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Charles S.
Democrat NY

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  • Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act of 2014—Motion to Proceed—Continued

    by Senator Charles E. Schumer

    Posted on 2014-07-16

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    SCHUMER. Mr. President, I rise today to discuss the Protect Women's Health From Corporate Interference Act of 2014, introduced by my friends and colleagues Senator Murray and Senator Udall. I am proud to be a cosponsor of this legislation.

    We are at a critical moment when it comes to women's health care rights. We just witnessed a Supreme Court decision that curtailed important access to health care for employees across the country. The Hobby Lobby case has now opened the door for the vast majority of companies and bosses to start denying their employees contraceptive coverage if the owners have a religious objection. We must slam the door shut. To do that this body must set the record straight about the law the Supreme Court used to make their decision, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

    As one of the original authors of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, I was the lead sponsor in the House of Representatives. Senator Kennedy was the lead sponsor in the Senate.

    I can say with absolute certainty that the law has been unwisely stretched by the Supreme Court to extend religious protections to corporations Congress never intended to be covered under the bill. I am compelled to do so because several of my colleagues on the other side have come to the floor to defend the Hobby Lobby decision using my words. These were arguments I made in 1993 when we first passed the RFRA and we were dealing with the protection of individual--underlining individual--liberties. The quotation they used dealt broadly with the importance of religious freedom of expression in our country. I said the RFRA would help restore the American tradition of allowing maximum religious freedom. That is as true today as it was then. I believe as strongly in RFRA as it was written then as I do now, but it was misinterpreted and wrongly expanded by the Supreme Court.

    When my colleagues used this quotation as a point of argument, they completely missed the point of the debate. The debate is not about the conflict between freedom of religious expression and government- mandated health coverage. That is a false choice. The debate is really whether the Supreme Court appropriately interpreted the RFRA in applying it to profit-making corporations.

    As the author of the bill, I can say again with absolute certainty that the Supreme Court got the Hobby Lobby case dead wrong.

    When we wrote RFRA back in 1993, we did so to protect that which individuals with strong religious beliefs had always enjoyed--the presumption that they should be able to exercise their religious beliefs without interference from the government. But the Court took that protection and misapplied it to for-profit companies that exist for the purpose of benefiting from the open market.

    The Hobby Lobby decision marks a sharp departure both from the intent of RFRA and from prior judicial interpretations of RFRA. The Supreme Court got it wrong. That is why this bill, authored by my colleagues from Washington and Colorado, is of paramount importance--to clarify the law and to restore protections for employees that were stripped away by this wrongheaded Supreme Court decision.

    My colleagues on the other side of the aisle will continue to assert that this is just another assault by Democrats on free exercise of religion or peddle other falsehoods. So I would like to clearly explain what this bill will and won't do.

    This bill will ensure that companies cannot deny their workers any health benefits, including birth control, as required to be covered by Federal law.

    This bill will make it clear that bosses cannot discriminate against their female workers, ensuring equal treatment under the law for tens of thousands of workers whose coverage hangs in the balance.

    This bill is not only about birth control. The Hobby Lobby decision has implications for other health services, and now this bill will ensure that all covered employees have access to all necessary health care--not only contraceptives but also blood transfusions, antidepressants, and vaccines.

    The bill does not require churches or nonprofit organizations to provide contraceptive coverage even when they object on religious grounds. The Affordable Care Act exemption process for nonprofit organizations with a religious mission is unchanged by this bill.

    This bill will not allow new laws that can target specific religious groups.

    The bill only applies to health care.

    Most importantly, this bill does not restrict the Constitution's First Amendment right to free exercise of religion. The bill only clarifies the relative weight the Court should give when two Federal statutes--such as the Affordable Care Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act--come into conflict.

    As I continue to say, RFRA was intended to give individuals who profess strong religious beliefs what they had always enjoyed--the strong presumption that they should be able to exercise their religious beliefs without government interference. RFRA was not intended to extend the same protection to for-profit corporations the very purpose of which is to profit from the open market.

    The Supreme Court's cavalier decision to grant religious rights to closely held corporations could curtail the health care freedom of women at as many as 90 percent of American businesses. By putting health care decisions in the hands of a woman's boss instead of a woman and her doctor, the decision creates a slippery slope that could affect tens of millions of Americans--our daughters, our wives--in the future.

    We need this bill to clarify the law and firmly protect a woman's right to access essential health care.

    I thank my colleagues Senator Udall and Senator Murray for offering this legislation. I urge my colleagues to support this effort to protect women's health care and religious freedom.

    I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Texas.

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