“It would be political malpractice not to deal with this,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said during a press conference, when asked by a New York Times reporter the extent to which politics influenced the bill now cosponsored by 41 Democrats.
“On Hobby Lobby, Mark Udall has an exemplary record on issues dealing with women,” Reid added.
The Senate voting schedule increasingly favors vulnerable Democrats facing tough reelection campaigns — a move that Reid hopes will keep his party in control of the Senate. Udall’s bill is expected to bypass regular procedure – committee hearings and votes – and head straight to the floor next week for a vote.
Udall appeared at two press conferences this week to promote the legislation, the first on Tuesday which he blamed in part as the reason for missing his own fundraiser in Denver headlined by President Barack Obama.
During the press conference Thursday with Reid, Udall framed the measure as a restoration of every female employee’s right to birth control.
“Women agreed to work for a craft store, not a religious organization. We must take steps now to push back so that women can make their own choices,” said Udall, reading from a prepared statement.
Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, the original author of the language inserted into Obamacare, also attended the press conference, offering Udall a sly smile and double-tap on the hip in support.
The legislation would undo the Supreme Court’s ruling last month in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The decision allowed closely held corporations to opt out of the Affordable Care Act requirement that employers provide cost-sharing insurance coverage for the morning-after pill and Intrauterine devices for those that object on religious grounds.
Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray is the primary sponsor of the bill dubbed Protecting Women’s Access to Critical Health Care. Murray said Udall contacted her about working on the bill to reverse the high court’s decision and echoed his framing of the legislation.
“As Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood eloquently said, the bottom line is women decide to use birth control for themselves, their partners, and their doctors, and they shouldn’t need a permission slip from their boss,” Murray said.
Udall is locked in a close reelection campaign with Republican Rep. Cory Gardner for the right to represent Colorado for another six-year term.
Gardner’s campaign spokesman Alex Siciliano did not address Udall’s bill directly, but in a written statement criticized the Democrat’s politicization of the issue.
“Cory believes we need to remove politics from the issue of contraception and sell the pill over the counter. Senator Udall should follow his lead,” Siciliano said.
The Hobby-Lobby ruling does not prevent female employees from access to birth control pills, but allows religious employers to opt out of paying for abortifacients. Female employees would need to pay out of pocket for the contraception coverage in a health-care plan out.
Democrats believe the issue of contraception holds special appeal to unmarried female voters – an unmotivated constituency in off-year elections.
An October survey from Lake Research Partners and the Voter Participation Center illustrated the problem. It found that unmarried women, minorities, and those ranging in age 18 to 29 represented nearly half of all voters in 2012. However, they are expected to represent barely more than two in five voters in 2014.
Obama acknowledged his party’s problem at Udall’s fundraiser, where attendees paid $1,000 to $30,000 for a ticket.
“One challenge that I always offered to Democrats is we do have one congenital disease, which is we’re not very good during off-year elections,” Obama said.
“We don’t think it’s flashy enough. I don’t know — there aren’t enough celebrities involved? I don’t know what’s going on, but a lot of times we don’t vote at the same rates. We don’t pay attention,” Obama said.