Senate Democrats tried and failed Wednesday to pass a legislative fix to last month's Hobby Lobby decision at the Supreme Court. The bill would have forced all employers to offer all types of available contraception, and it was proposed after the court ruled Hobby Lobby, as an employer with religious beliefs, had a right not to pay for its female employees to receive four kinds of contraception the family owners believed to cause abortions.
The vote, which failed to overcome a GOP filibuster 56-43, was a political one, as there was no chance that House Republicans would have passed the measure. But it did what it was designed to do: highlight to female voters what Democrats say is a coordinated GOP push to take contraception away from women.
“I sincerely hope our Republican colleagues will join us and allow us to proceed to debate on this important bill,” Senator Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat who sponsored the bill, said on the Senate floor before the vote. “I’d like to remind them that women across the country are watching—and I think they will be very interested in seeing who is on their side.”
Democrats are hoping to turn out unmarried women—a reliably Democratic group but one that doesn’t always vote in midterm elections—this November in a bid to save the Senate from falling to Republican control. To that end, they have focused on a women’s economic agenda. On Wednesday, House Democrats unveiled a “middle class jumpstart agenda" that would raise the minimum wage, which disproportionately effects women, and limit executive compensation over $1 million.
Republicans, still smarting from the loss of two Senate seats in the 2012 elections due to inopportune comments about rape uttered by two of their candidates, have made a concerted effort this year to keep their candidates in line. They’re also pushing back on the legislative front. This week, Senator Deb Fischer, a Nebraska Republican, introduced a family leave bill that competes with Democratic initiatives aimed at helping women and families get more flexibility at the workplace. And House GOP women are looking at legislation of their own in the coming weeks on equal pay and other work issues.
Fischer, along with Senator Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, inked an op-ed in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal pushing back on the Democratic efforts around the Hobby Lobby decision.
“In the days since the Supreme Court's June 30 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision, we have been troubled by those who seem eager to misrepresent both the facts of the case and the impact of its ruling on women—all to divide Americans and score political points in a tough election year,” they wrote. “Americans believe strongly that we should be able to practice our religion without undue interference from the government. It's a fundamental conviction that goes to the very core of our character—and dates back to the founding of our nation. The Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby case, which protects rights of conscience, reaffirmed our centuries-old tradition of religious liberty.”
Still, Republican women aren’t unified on the issue. Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Maine’s Susan Collins—who make up half of the GOP's female Senate population—voted with the Democrats on Wednesday to end their colleagues' filibuster. And polls show a majority of Americans were against the Hobby Lobby ruling and that women are trending Democratic in this election. But the question remains for Democrats: will their efforts get women to the polls?