Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), On the “Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act”

Last month five conservative justices on the Supreme Court decided that a corporation’s rights can trump a female employee’s right to make her own health care decisions.  This is just the latest decision from a thin majority of justices that diminish the rights of hardworking Americans and have a direct effect on their economic security.  I am proud to be a cosponsor of the “Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act,” which the Senate is considering today.  It is needed to overturn the Court’s most recent expansion of corporate rights. 

For far too long, women were priced out of health care simply because of their gender.  Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, much of the discrimination women faced in the health insurance market was eliminated.  It is unthinkable that as recently as last year, a woman’s health care premiums could cost 45 to 140 percent more than a man’s.  No wonder over half of women identified cost as a barrier to health coverage and why so many women went without insurance.  Women could be denied coverage for something as simple as having had a C-section, or for being a victim of domestic violence.  We should be embarrassed that in a country as great as ours this inequity survived as long as it did. 

Unfortunately, in the Hobby Lobby decision, which this legislation would address, the Supreme Court set back these advances in equality in health coverage by sanctioning the very discrimination in health care access and services that the Affordable Care Act remedied.  By ruling that the owners of corporations may impose their religious beliefs on their employees, women are no longer guaranteed the right to make their own health care decisions.  Additionally, this ruling could have far reaching consequences beyond access to contraception.  Unless Congress acts, we could see employers restricting the right to other health care services, including vaccines or blood transfusions. 

This ruling comes on the heels of another decision that also threatens women’s access to health care. In McCullen v. Coakley, the Court ruled that a 35-foot buffer zone protecting women from harassment when entering women’s health clinics was not justified and was therefore unconstitutional.  This was yet another decision where the Roberts court allowed other’s rights – whether an employer or a stranger on the street who holds a different view point – to trump that of a woman seeking health care. 

In addition to the Supreme Court narrowing the rights of American women, we have seen many legislative efforts across the country to cut away at the progress we have made in women’s health over the last few years.  We have seen federal bills and amendments introduced that would take decisions out of the hands of patients and doctors, and place them with businesses and insurance companies.  States have followed suit by passing laws limiting women’s access to health care services. I believe our focus should be on improving access to quality and affordable health care for all Americans, not arbitrarily restricting the important treatments needed by millions of women.

The Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act would restore Congress’ intent by prohibiting any company from denying their workers specific health coverage, including birth control, as required to be covered by Federal law.  Without this legislation, for-profit corporations that otherwise offer preventative health benefits can choose to deny their employers contraception coverage based on their religious beliefs.  The bill before the Senate would once again prohibit bosses from discriminating against their employees based on their gender and would ensure women’s health care decisions are placed back in the hands of those women and their doctors. 

At the core of the Affordable Care Act is the principle that all Americans, regardless of health history or gender, have the right to access health care services and make their own decisions about their health care.  As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee – and as a husband, a father, a grandfather, and as a Vermonter – this is a principle I take seriously.  I will continue to fight against efforts to roll back protections for women, minorities, or any group that has faced discrimination.

I hope that instead of focusing on ways to limit health care options for women, we can join together to promote the interests of women across America by supporting this bill.  Nothing less than the economic security of our families is at stake. 

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