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McConnell challenges Dems to support rights to contraception and religious freedom

This June 24, 2014 file photo shows Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday challenged Democrats to support a Republican bill that reaffirms both women's rights to choose their own contraception, and the right everyone has to religious freedom.

McConnell is a cosponsor of the Preserving Religious Freedom and a Woman's Access to Contraception Act, which makes it clear in the law that companies cannot stop women from buying whatever contraception they want. The bill is a response to Democratic attempts to reverse the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, which said closely-held companies cannot be forced to provide forms of contraception that could lead to abortions.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday asked Democrats to support his new bill that supports rights to contraception and religious freedom, but Democrats aren't expected to sign up. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Democrats have cast the ruling as one that violates women's rights to birth control. But Republicans have said the ruling only means that family-owned companies like Hobby Lobby cannot be required to provide four of the 20 contraceptive drugs and devices prescribed in regulations issued by the Obama administration.

The GOP also says the Democratic position would obliterate the religious rights of people not to cover or pay for methods that could cause abortion.

"Our friends on the other side are now on record as saying that we should protect the freedoms of some, while stripping away the freedoms of others," McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday. He added that the bill is a "common-sense" proposal that reflects a compromise between contraceptive rights and religious freedom.

"It reaffirms that we can both preserve America's long tradition of tolerance and respect for people of faith, while at the same time preserving a woman's ability to make her own decisions about contraception," he said. "So if Democrats are serious about doing right by women, if they're not just interested in stoking divisions in an election year, then they should get onboard with our legislation."

Democrats are unlikely to do so. On Wednesday afternoon, Democrats will try to advance a bill that would legislate around the Hobby Lobby decision by requiring all companies to cover all required forms of contraception to women.

Many Democrats have argued that women need their employers to cover the costs of all forms of contraception, a point Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) made on the Senate floor immediately after McConnell spoke. Republicans have rejected this argument by saying it would effectively require small, family-owned companies to pay for drugs and devices that violate their religious beliefs.

Lack of Republican support for the Democratic bill will likely cause it to fail, since five Republicans will be needed to advance the Democratic bill.

The GOP bill, whose lead sponsor is Sen, Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), would also ask the Food and Drug Administration to study whether some contraceptives can be bought without a prescription. And, it would repeal Obamacare's limits on the use of health savings accounts, which would let women use these accounts to buy contraceptives they want that may not be covered by their company.

McConnell added Wednesday that this change would help women, as Obamacare has ended up raising costs for these medical products.

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