Members of Congress Demand Bill to Stop Obama’s Mandate

National   Steven Ertelt   Feb 15, 2012   |   5:22PM    Washington, DC

More than 50 members of Congress banded together at a press conference today to demand legislation to stop the new mandate pro-abortion President Barack Obama put in place forcing religious employers to pay for insurance coverage including birth control and abortion-inducing drugs.

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry held a press conference today with supporters of the bipartisan, bicameral Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. His legislation would protect the religious liberty and conscience rights of every American who objects to being forced by the strong-arm of government to pay for drugs and procedures recently mandated by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Rep. Chris Smith, the head of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus said Obama’s slick public relations offensive on Friday contained neither an “accommodation” nor a compromise nor a change in his coercion rule.

“The final rule promulgated Friday remains a direct, obnoxious, unprecedented government attack on the conscience rights of religious entities and anyone else who for moral reasons cannot and will not pay for abortion inducing drugs—such as ella—or contraception and sterilization procedures in their private insurance plans,” Smith said. “Obama is arrogantly using the coercive power of the state to force faith-based charities, hospitals, and schools to conform to his will at the expense of conscience.”

“Obama’s means of coercing compliance—ruinous fines of over $2,000 per employee when faith-based organizations refuse to comply—will impose incalculable harm on millions of children—educated in faith-based schools—and the poor, sick, disabled and frail elderly who are served with such compassion and dignity by faith-based entities,” Smith added. “The Respect for Rights of Conscience Act introduced by Mr. Fortenberry reasserts and restores conscience rights by making absolutely clear that no one can be compelled to subsidize certain so called services in private insurance plans contrary to their religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

Sen. David Vitter, a pro-life Republican from Louisiana, joined the event today as well and said he supports the bipartisan and bicameral measure that would roll back the Obama administration’s requirement that religious organizations provide insurance covering contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.

“This so-called ‘accommodation’ the president announced last week is nothing more than a word game. It hasn’t changed anything because it still requires employers to offer insurance with these controversial services – even self-insured organizations like many religious hospitals and universities. It may be good enough for President Obama’s conscience, but not for the millions of Americans who cherish their religious liberty,” said Vitter.

Vitter was the only senator present at the press conference and he is the Senate sponsor of the Fortenberry bill, which is headed up by pro-life Se. Roy Blunt in the Senate.

Vitter is also the author of the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, which would amend the Public Health Service Act to prohibit the federal government and any state or local government that receives federal financial assistance from discriminating against organizations and insurers that refuse to participate in abortion-related activities.

The Fortenberry bill currently has the support of approximately 220 Members of Congress and Senators, the most strongly-supported legislative remedy to the controversial HHS mandate.  This measure would repeal the controversial mandate, amending the 2010 health care law to preserve conscience rights for religious institutions, health care providers, and small businesses who pay for health care coverage.

“The President still doesn’t understand that religious institutions will still be unacceptably entangled–financially and provisionally– with drugs, procedures, and services to which they may have religious and moral objections, in violation of their long-held rights of conscience,” he told LifeNews in a statement. “Moreover, this announcement still does not get to the very core of American distress: religious freedom and conscience rights are natural rights as enshrined in the Constitution.  The government does not confer them and must not force persons to violate them by paying for things to which they have reasoned religious or moral objections.”

“Congress should protect the religious liberty and conscience rights of every American who objects to being forced by the strongarm of government to pay for services to which she or he has deeply-held objections. We must do so for the benefit of the millions of Americans who are calling for swift bipartisan action,” he added.

H.R. 1179 enjoys the endorsements of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Right to Life Committee, Americans United for Life, and other organizations.  Numerous other organizations, including the Christian Medical Association and Family Research Council, have urged support of the bill.

The press conference comes as the U.S. Senate is expected to vote soon, possibly as early as today, on an amendment that would stop the mandate President Barack Obama put in place to force religious groups to pay for insurance coverage that includes birth control and abortion-causing drugs.

Sen. Roy Blunt, a pro-life Missouri Republican, is putting forward the Blunt Amendment, #1520, again, and it is termed the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. According to information provided to LifeNews from pro-life sources on Capitol Hill, the Blunt Amendment will be the first amendment voted on when the Senate returns to the transportation bill. The amendment would allow employers to decline coverage of services in conflict with religious beliefs.

The Hill indicatesReid said Tuesday that he will allow a vote on the Blunt amendment. Meanwhile, the usual pro-abortion leaders int he Senate — Patty Murrary and Barbara Boxer — say they will aggressively oppose the amendment.

“This is a genuine assault on First Amendment freedoms,” Blunt said in an exclusive interview with Heritage following a speech there Monday. Blunt dismissed Obama’s “accommodation” announcement last week as an “accounting gimmick.” He said it’s not an issue of money as Obama portrayed it Friday.

“This is not about cost. It’s about the Constitution,” Blunt told Heritage. “And if you can decide this no longer offends me because I don’t have to pay for it, I guess you’re concern is financial all the time and not faith-based.”

Republicans are moving swiftly with legislation, amendments, and potential hearings on the mandatethe Obama administration has put in place that forces religious employers to pay for birth control and abortion-inducing drugs for their employees.

Congress will do what it can to fight back, starting this week, as pro-life Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, puts together a hearing on conscience rights.

“If this is what the President is willing to do in a tough election year, imagine what he will do in implementing the rest of his health care law after the election,” Issa said.

Rep. Dan Lipinski, a pro-life Illinois Democrat, and a host of Republicans from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), will hold a hearing entitled, “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” on Thursday, February 16th at 9:30AM in 2154 Rayburn House Office Building.

On Thursday, Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and others offered Amendment #1520 to ensure Obamacare cannot be used to force health plan issuers or healthcare providers to furnish insurance coverage for drugs, devices, and services contrary to their religious beliefs or moral convictions.  However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the top Democrat, blocked the amendment.

Leading pro-life groups, including Americans United for Life, are urging support for the Amendment, which could be added to another piece of legislation.

“The Obama Administration continued its unprecedented attack on Americans’ freedom of conscience by refusing to reverse its mandate that nearly all insurance plans must provide full coverage of all Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved “contraception,” including the abortion-inducing drug ella,” the organization said in an action alert to its members. “We must urge the Senate to protect Americans’ freedom of conscience by supporting Amendment #1520, which would protect the right to provide, purchase, or enroll in healthcare coverage that is consistent with one’s religious beliefs and moral convictions.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops  issued a statement saying Obama’s revised mandate involves “needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions” and it urged Congress to overturn the rule and promised a potential lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the Republican presidential candidates had been taking verbal swings at Obama for imposing the original mandate on religious employers, which is not popular in the latest public opinion poll and which even some Democrats oppose.

Congressman Steve Scalise has led a bipartisan letter with 154 co-signers calling on the Obama Administration to reverse its mandate forcing religious organizations to include drugs that can cause abortion and birth control in the health care plans of their employees.

Bishops across the country have spoken out against the original mandate and are considering a lawsuit against it — with bishops in more than 164 locations across the United States issuing public statements against it or having letters opposing it printed in diocesan newspaper or read from the pulpit.

“We cannot — we will not comply with this unjust law,” said the letter from Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix. “People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens.”

The original mandate was so egregious that even the normally reliably liberal and pro-abortion USA Today condemned it in an editorial titled, “Contraception mandate violates religious freedom.”

The administration initially approved a recommendation from the Institute of Medicine suggesting that it force insurance companies to pay for birth control and drugs that can cause abortions under the Obamacare government-run health care program.

The IOM recommendation, opposed by pro-life groups, called for the Obama administration to require insurance programs to include birth control — such as the morning after pill or the ella drug that causes an abortion days after conception — in the section of drugs and services insurance plans must cover under “preventative care.” The companies will likely pass the added costs on to consumers, requiring them to pay for birth control and, in some instances, drug-induced abortions of unborn children in their earliest days.

The HHS accepted the IOM guidelines that “require new health insurance plans to cover women’s preventive services” and those services include “FDA-approved contraception methods and contraceptive counseling” — which include birth control drugs like Plan B and ella that can cause abortions. The Health and Human Services Department commissioned the report from the Institute, which advises the federal government and shut out pro-life groups in meetings leading up to the recommendations.