A bill is in play to try to guarantee contraceptive-related insurance coverage to women employees despite the U. S. Supreme Court's 2014 Hobby Lobby ruling that for-profit corporations can refuse to pay for birth control through company policies on religious grounds.
Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, prefiled that bill in late December, arguing that such coverage can be required through the state's equal rights and employee rights laws. Twenty-two of the Washington Senate's 23 minority Democrats are co-sponsoring the bill. The exception is Sen. James Hargrove, D- Hoquiam, one of the most conservative members of the Democratic caucus. No member of the Majority Coalition Caucus — 25 Republicans and one Democrat — have signed on.
The Hobby Lobby ruling declared that closely held for-profit corporations are exempt from a law that its owners religiously object to if there are less restrictive means of furthering the law's interest. The Hobby Lobby case focused on the corporation's rights under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which limits what federal law can do to put a significant burden on a person's freedom of religion. Part of this case is based on a previous U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a corporation can be considered a person.
Hobby Lobby's stance was that a federal mandate was forcing it to provide four potentially life-terminating drugs against the religious convictions of its owners, according to a website the corporation created.
Pedersen contended that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling's narrow focus provides other avenues to require businesses to provide insurance coverage for contraception. His bill will attempt to apply Washington's equal rights and employee rights laws, making access to a full range of contraceptives a matter of basic human rights.
Pedersen thinks his bill "is probably a long shot given who controls the Senate." However, he noted that some moderate Republicans senators face re-election in 2016, which might influence their 2015 floor votes and the dynamics of the 2015 session. "You just don't know until you see the new mix," Pedersen said.
Other Democratic senators are also talking with Democratic House members about getting a companion bill through that chamber to send to the Senate.
Pedersen's bill does not involve the Reproductive Parity Act, which would require health plans that cover maternity care to cover abortions as well. That Democratic bill passed the House in 2013 and 2014 to be thwarted both times by the Senate majority coalition.