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 past 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 the past two years, but died in the Senate, where the ruling coalition is led by 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 case 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 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 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.
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