Andrea Mitchell Slams Hobby Lobby: 'What Right Do They Have to Interfere With Medical Decisions by Women?'

On her 12 p.m. ET hour MSNBC show on Tuesday, host Andrea Mitchell interrogated attorney Mark Rienzi for representing Hobby Lobby in the Supreme Court case against the ObamaCare contraception mandate: "What right do they have, again, to interfere with medical decisions by women?...I mean, this gets to the whole issue of women's health and why should women be discriminated against in ways that other medical beneficiaries are not?" [Listen to the audio]

Rienzi pushed back: "No one's discriminating against women, Andrea, all they're saying is that, you're right, these are personal decisions, these are things that people can come to different judgments about. But the government is trying to say – they're gonna force people to be involved in it whether they want to or not."

At the top of the interview – following a clip of Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards framing the issue as a fight for women's rights – Mitchell pressed Rienzi:

What do you say to those like Senator Patty Murray [D-WA], like Cecile Richards, and many women and men who argue that this is a slippery slope? If you say that a small company or a company – a family-run company like Hobby Lobby should have a waiver or be able to opt-out than other corporations can as well take issue with one or another of the mandated forms of coverage under ObamaCare?

Rienzi pointed out current federal law on religious freedom: "It's not a slippery slope and Congress enacted this law in 1993 with the support of Ted Kennedy and President Bill Clinton and the ACLU because it's a law that strikes a reasonable balance between religious liberty and government interest."

Mitchell fretted: "Why should women face those kinds of decisions [about contraception] made by an employer rather than made by their doctor and by themselves?"

Rienzi corrected her: "Well, actually, no. So the employer is simply trying to get out of the decision, right? The employer here says, 'I want nothing to do with that decision, that's your private business. You do it on your own.'"

Here is a full transcript of the March 25 segment:

12:31 PM ET

CECILE RICHARDS [PRESIDENT, PLANNED PARENTHOOD]: It was a wonderful day, I think, for women and I really believe that this court understood that women have the right to make their own decisions about their health care and their birth control and it's not their boss's decision.

ANDREA MITCHELL: Cecile Richards, of course, of Planned Parenthood outside the Court. Let's turn back to those oral arguments at the Supreme Court today focusing on some forms of contraceptions mandated trough the health care law.

Mark Rienzi joins me now, he serves as senior counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The Becket Fund represents Hobby Lobby CEO David Green. Thank you so much for joining us. And a cold day out there outside the Court...

MARK: It's my pleasure.

MITCHELL: ...we appreciate it, Mr. Rienzi. What do you say to those like Senator Patty Murray [D-WA], like Cecile Richards, and many women and men who argue that this is a slippery slope? If you say that a small company or a company – a family-run company like Hobby Lobby should have a waiver or be able to opt-out than other corporations can as well take issue with one or another of the mandated forms of coverage under ObamaCare?

MARK RIENZI [BECKET FUND FOR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY]: It's not a slippery slope and Congress enacted this law in 1993 with the support of Ted Kennedy and President Bill Clinton and the ACLU because it's a law that strikes a reasonable balance between religious liberty and government interest.

The problem for the government in this case is that the government can so easily achieve its interests in so many other ways. The government has actually exempted businesses covering millions and millions – tens of millions of people from this mandate, but it won't exempt the Greens and Hobby Lobby because of this religious beliefs. And that's just consistent with federal law.

MITCHELL: Well, the companies that have been exempted have been – have been religious companies, not companies like Hobby Lobby-

RIENZI: Oh, no – no, not at all. The government has exempted plans covering tens of millions of people under the President's promise that "If you like your health plan you can keep it." So that's the grandfathering provision. And the government acknowledges this, that under that provision, tens of millions of employees are in plans that don't have to comply with the contraceptive mandate at all.

The problem for the government today was they had to convince the Supreme Court that they had a compelling interest in forcing Hobby Lobby to cover the drugs when they exempt all these other companies from the same requirement.

MITCHELL: But how do you decide what drugs are exempted? Why should some – why should women face those kinds of decisions made by an employer rather than made by their doctor and by themselves?

RIENZI: Well, actually, no. So the employer is simply trying to get out of the decision, right? The employer here says, "I want nothing to do with that decision, that's your private business. You do it on your own."

The government has many other ways to get these drugs to whomever it wants to get them too. It has accommodations for some other non-profits. It has the exchanges. I mean, the government has these health care exchanges open. If the government thinks somebody needs insurance, well, they offer it on the exchanges and the government can let them come on the exchanges if they want.

This is a religious liberty fight that should never have to happen because the government has so many other ways to achieve its goals and it's doing that in so many other cases and it simply refuses here because these folks started a family business.

MITCHELL: These folks started a family business, but what right do they have, again, to interfere with medical decisions by women? They seem to be claiming that these contraceptive procedures, these contraceptive drugs, are the equivalent of abortions. In some cases you could argue that these are medical procedures that women need to protect their health. I mean, this gets to the whole issue of women's health...

RIENZI: So, Andrea-

MITCHELL: ...and why should women be discriminated against in ways that other medical beneficiaries are not?

RIENZI: No one's discriminating against women, Andrea, all they're saying is that, you're right, these are personal decisions, these are things that people can come to different judgments about. But the government is trying to say – they're gonna force people to be involved in it whether they want to or not.

All the Greens have said is they just don't want to be involved in this. And it's the government that has come in and said, "Your boss has to be involved in your contraceptive decisions. Your boss has to be involved in you getting these products." And the Greens are simply saying, under federal law, the government shouldn't force people to violate their religion.

And today the Obama administration admitted in court, they admitted this in open court, that their theory would also support an abortion mandate. Their theory would also support a law that would force doctors who make money, who earn a profit, would be able to force them to provide abortions if they wanted to. It's an extreme position and it has no place in our long tradition of protecting freedom of conscience. The government can get these drugs to people a lot of other ways.

MITCHELL: Do you think that there could be a compromise here, inferring from what the justices were saying and what Justice – the questions Justice Kennedy was asking in particular –  could there be a compromise between a smaller family-owned company such as Hobby Lobby and the massive, the giant corporations like General Electric let's say or General Motors?

RIENZI: Oh, Sure. Sure, sure. So – and Chief Justice Roberts made this point, too. Everybody who has raised a claim about this mandate has been a small closely-held family business. And that's not a surprise, because those are the only people who are really exercising religion when they run a company.

IBM and Exxon are never going to come into court and subject themselves to perjury charges and lie, and claim that they operate based on religion. And if they do, the government will beat them immediately and the judge with laugh them out of court. So there's no danger that you're gonna have those claims. None of those claims have been made, even though this standard's been around for 20-something years. And they're not gonna be made.

So, sure, the Court could easily issue a ruling that is limited to the closely-held types of businesses that actually do exercise religion. But the fact of the matter is, many people do exercise religion when they go to work. People don't say, "Well, there's something I think is deeply wrong but I'm doing it for the company, so that's okay." That's just not the way people approach their lives, at least not most people.

MITCHELL: Thank you very much for joining us today, Mr. Rienzi.

RIENZI: Thank you, Andrea.

MITCHELL: Outside the Court. We'll see how the Court rules.

— Kyle Drennen is News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.