President Obama declined to answer questions about the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Hobby Lobby case this morning, so Monday morning’s White House daily briefing provided the first opportunity for the administration to react to a decision that places employers’ religious beliefs ahead of its employees’ rights. That briefing was delayed for over an hour, undoubtedly in order to craft a response to the court’s striking decision to partially overturn the Obamacare mandate that employer-provided health insurance include coverage for contraception.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest knew what was coming, as he kicked off the briefing by telling the Associated Press’ Nedra Pickler to “kick off the fireworks.”
“What is your reaction to the Hobby Lobby ruling?” Pickler asked.
“I suspected that might be your first question today,” Earnest replied, then read from a prepared statement.
“The Supreme Court ruled today that some bosses can now withhold contraceptive care from employees’ health coverage based on religious views that their employees may not even share. President Obama believes that women should make personal health care decisions for themselves rather than their bosses deciding for them. Today’s decision jeopardizes the health of women who are employed by these companies. As millions of women know firsthand, contraception is often vital to their health and well-being. That’s why the Affordable Care Act ensures that women have coverage for contraceptive care, along with other preventative care like vaccines and cancer screenings.”
“We will work with Congress to make sure that any women affected by this decision will still have the same coverage of vital health services as everyone else. President Obama believes strongly in the freedom of religion. That is why we have taken steps to ensure that no religious institution will have to pay or provide for contraceptive coverage. We’ve also made accommodations for nonprofit religious organizations that object to contraception on religious grounds. But we believe that a company should not be able to assert their views to deny employees federally mandated benefits. We will, of course, respect the Supreme Court ruling, and will continue to look for ways to improve Americans’ health by helping women have more, not less, say over their personal health decisions that affect them and their families.”
The Hobby Lobby decision has energized Democratic voters, but the White House clearly hopes that by putting the onus on Congress to restore the contraceptive mandate’s protection to all women, it can engage the broader electorate. Conservatives may feel a sense of victory today, but it remains to be seen how many Republicans will line up against contraception, and how that will play.