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Spin Control

Hobby Lobby to fuel RPA debate next year?

OLYMPIA – Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows some companies to refuse birth control coverage for employees is likely to add fuel to both sides of the Washington legislative controversies over the Reproductive Parity Act.

It probably won’t affect two other controversial cases that involve businesses and claims of religious freedom.

A priority for Gov. Jay Inslee and most legislative Democrats for the last two years, the Reproductive Parity Act would require any insurance plan that offers maternity care to also cover abortions. It easily passed the state House of Representatives this year and last, but died in the Senate where the ruling coalition is predominantly Republicans.

“I’m hoping that what this will do is urge the Legislature to pick (the legislation) up and pass it next year,” Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, prime sponsor of the Reproductive Parity Act, said of the court’s Hobby Lobby decision.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said he doubted that the court’s decision will change any minds on either side of the issue, but it could cause both sides to step up efforts for or against the proposal: “Both sides have their share of passionate people.”

The Hobby Lobby involves forms of contraception that some people consider a form of abortion. The Reproductive Parity Act covers actual abortions, Padden said. “The position against the RPA is even stronger than the argument against abortion in the Hobby Lobby case,” he said.

Opponents of abortion will definitely use Monday’s decision to fight the proposal, Hobbs predicted, and supporters should take it as a sign that a woman’s right to decide to have an abortion is not “all worked out” even though that Supreme Court case is 40 years old. “I think this is a fight that will continue on a state-by-state basis.”

Hobbs said he will likely sponsor  a new version of the Reproductive Parity Act in the next session. Padden, who would lead a committee with jurisdiction over the proposal unless Democrats regain the majority, said he can’t decide at this point whether he’d schedule a hearing. “But I’m not a big fan of mandates,” he added.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the Hobby Lobby decision should have no impact on a court case in which some pharmacists don’t want to stock the morning-after birth control pill or a separate case in which a florist refused to serve a same-sex couple’s wedding. Religious freedom is cited in both cases, but they involve state laws, not the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act involved in Monday’s ruling, he said.

The court also said the Hobby Lobby decision doesn’t create a religious exception to anti-discrimination laws, Ferguson said. The state argues the florist case involves discrimination based on sexual orientation, which is illegal under Washington law. 

For comments about the Hobby Lobby decision from Northwest politicians, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

Here are some Northwest reactions to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case:

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.: "Today’s Supreme Court Decision sets a dangerous precedent and takes us closer to a time in history when women had no choice and no voice. . . Your health care decisions are not your boss’s business – period. . . In the coming days I will work with my colleagues and the administration to protect this access, regardless of who signs your paycheck.”

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.: “We live in a nation founded on the fundamental right that all people can live and work according to their beliefs without fear of punishment from the federal government. This morning the Supreme Court defended liberty by ruling that American family business owners should not be forced to choose between their faith or unlawful, unnecessary government mandates.”

U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho: “This is a tremendous victory for religious freedom in America. No American should be forced between following their faith and submitting to unlawful and unnecessary government mandates.”

State Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, running for Labrador’s seate: “Today’s decision allows corporations to deny contraception to female employee’s because of the corporation’s religious objections. I saw many people from my community in church last Sunday but I didn’t see a corporation there.”

Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler: “It is an injustice to everyone who has fought for decades to bring health insurance parity to Washington state and nationwide. The court essentially said that a corporation’s religious affiliation can trump women’s health care choices.”

 State Sen. Mike Padden, chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee: “It is good news for many people of faith. I’m glad a majority of the justices recognized that people are not required to automatically check their religious beliefs at the door simply because they choose to open a business.”

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter: “Today’s ruling confirms once again that President Obama’s policies – when left unchecked – are eroding are constitutional rights.”

The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.