Merkley and Women’s Groups Call for Congress to Keep Bosses out of Employees’ Health Care Decisions

PORTLAND, OR  –  Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley joined women’s rights advocates and health experts today in Portland to call for the Senate minority to stop obstructing a vote on a bill that would prevent employers from blocking their employees’ access to contraception.  The bill would undo the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, which lets most employers opt out of covering vital women’s health care services if they assert a religious objection. Merkley is cosponsor of the Protecting Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act, also known as the Not my Boss’s Business Act, which would ensure that employers provide women critical health care coverage, including contraception, as required under federal law.

“When it comes to women’s personal and reproductive health, women know best,” said Merkley. “We can’t just hand over to bosses and CEOs the power of making their employees’ personal health choices. The Supreme Court’s ruling was enough of an affront to women – it’s disappointing that a Senate minority dealt yet another blow to women nationwide by choosing to block this bill. Congress needs to stand up for female employees nationwide by making sure they receive the health care benefits they have earned.”

Ninety-nine percent of American women use birth control at some point in their lives. The bill Merkley cosponsored would affect millions of women who count on employer-based health care to lower the cost of contraception. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out in her dissenting opinion on the Hobby Lobby case, a woman working at the minimum wage would have to spend nearly one month’s earnings to afford the upfront cost of an intrauterine device (IUD).

Several women’s rights advocates joined Merkley to speak on the importance of women’s access to contraception.

Women’s health advocates Laura Terrill Patten, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Oregon, and Tracy Zitzelberger, MPH, board member of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, reiterated that women should neither have to ask their bosses for permission nor should have to pay out-of-pocket for critical medical services already earned through their employment.

Deborah Field, co-owner of Paperjam Press, spoke from a small business owner’s perspective, noting that she did not believe it was appropriate for bosses to interfere in employees’ health care.

On June 30, the Supreme Court ruled that “closely held” for-profit corporations can deny coverage for female employees’ contraception on the grounds of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Merkley’s bill would clarify that RFRA does not permit employers to deny coverage for a “specific health care item or service,” including preventive services.

As many as 90% of all American employers are “closely held” corporations, and more than half of the American workforce is employed by businesses that fall into this category. 

Since the Supreme Court issued its decision, Merkley has stood up for women by pressing Congress to take action to fix the ruling.

Merkley has long championed women’s health and access to birth control. As the Speaker of the Oregon House in 2007, he championed passage of the Oregon Access to Birth Control Act. In 2012, he spoke out on the Senate Floor against the Blunt Amendment, a legislative amendment that, like the Hobby Lobby decision, would allow secular for-profit employers to pick and choose their employees’ health coverage and deny coverage for birth control.