Reproductive rights

The inside story of how women won the contraception fight against Hobby Lobby

(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A new book Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works, by Jay Newton-Small has revealed the amount of behind-the-scenes maneuvering by women took place in Washington concerning the contraception mandate.

Congress’ passage of The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, in 2010 resulted in a provision that required employers to cover costs for their women employees’ contraception under health insurance provided through the state exchanges. The mandate — specifically that it included coverage of the morning after pill — roiled religious groups and companies that are run by executives heavily influenced by their Christian faith. The craft-store chain Hobby Lobby became the face of the controversy, which even divided President Obama’s closest advisers, who formulated a plan to adjust it and hopefully avert a larger challenge from Hobby Lobby.

They ultimately persuaded him to offer an exemption, to varying degrees, that would allow companies or other groups to opt out of the contraception mandate. A group of three women cabinet members lobbied for Obama to offer a very narrow exemption that would still offer as many women as possible contraception coverage, unlike Vice President Joe Biden who recommended a wider exemption. Obama, after much convincing, heeded advice of the women, and went with the narrow exemption.

A bitter vote then unfolded in the Senate in 2012, and the wider exemption won out. The dispute over the mandate became so heated that the issue eventually went before the Supreme Court, which took up the case in July 2014 and struck down the exemption altogether. The nation’s highest court, it’s worth noting, is only one-third women, so even though the female justices asked tough questions of the Hobby Lobby lawyers, the ruling didn’t go in their favor. How’s that a win? Because that coalition of women cabinet members and, by that point, some other key women advisers from the West Wing pressed Obama to rewrite the Obamacare language so that it allowed for an exemption from certain forms of birth control. Obama did it, the language became law, and it’s been challenged in court several times now — and roundly upheld.

Read the full story at TIME.

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