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Bishops, Pro-Lifers Vow to Continue Fighting Obama Mandate

by Steven Ertelt | Washington, DC | LifeNews.com | 3/2/12 12:18 PM

National

Despite a vote in the Senate against overturning it, nation’s Catholic bishops and leading pro-life groups vow to continue fighting the Obama mandate that forces religious employers to pay for birth control and drugs that may cause abortion.

Leading pro-life organizations called on the Senate to vote for the Blunt amendment to the mandate the Obama administration issued, but Democrats banded together against Republicans to defeat it on a 51 to 48 margin by adopting a motion to table, or kill, it.

“The need to defend citizens’ rights of conscience is the most critical issue before our country right now,” said Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut who is the chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

He continued, “We will continue our strong defense of conscience rights through all available legal means. Religious freedom is at the heart of democracy and rooted in the dignity of every human person. We will not rest until the protection of conscience rights is restored and the First Amendment is returned to its place of respect in the Bill of Rights.”

“I am grateful today to Senator Roy Blunt and the 47 other Senators who cast a bipartisan vote reaffirming our nation’s long tradition of respect for rights of conscience in health care,” said Bishop Lori.  “We will build on this base of support as we pursue legislation in the House of Representatives, urge the Administration to change its course on this issue, and explore our legal rights under the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

Freedom of conscience has been in the forefront since the Obama Administration issued a regulation under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act forcing most employers, including religious institutions, to provide coverage for sterilization and contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, even when they violate church teaching.

It will likely stay at the forefront as the National Right to Life Committee says it will hold Obama and lawmakers who voted against the Blunt Amendment to stop the mandate accountable at the polls. NRLC said it would continue to challenge the Obama Administration’s authority to mandate that virtually all employers pay for services they regard as morally objectionable, both in Congress and through political action.

“National Right to Life will continue to challenge the Obama Administration’s abortion-expansionist agenda on Capitol Hill, and we will encourage millions of like-minded Americans to remember this issue when they cast their ballots in November,” said Carol Tobias, National Right to Life president.

The focus now shifts to the House, where the same legislation, introduced as H.R. 1179 by Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-Ne.), currently has 220 cosponsors (more than half of all House members).  In addition, numerous lawsuits have been filed by religiously affiliated employers, challenging the Obama mandate as a violation of constitutional rights and of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The text of the Blunt Amendment is taken from an NRLC-endorsed bill, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (S. 1467, H.R. 1179).  It would amend the Obama health care law (“ObamaCare”) to prevent the use of that law to issue regulatory mandates that violate the religious or moral convictions of those who purchase or provide health insurance.

The Blunt legislation does not affect any federal law other than ObamaCare, nor does it apply to state laws.  In addition, the legislation does not allow any insurer to “discriminate against individuals because of their age, disability, or expected length of life.”

The Obama Administration has issued an initial mandate that requires nearly all employers to purchase plans that cover all FDA-approved methods of birth control.  NRLC has pointed out that the same authority could be employed by the Administration in the future to order virtually all health plans to cover all abortions.

Key pro-abortion senators, including Clare McCaskill of Missouri and Jon Tester of Montana, voted against the amendment — which will energize pro-life advocates against their re-election campaigns this November. On the other side, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska were three Democrats who crossed sides and voted with Republicans to support the amendment.

Pro-abortion Republican Olympia Snowe, a Maine senator who recently announced her retirement, was the only GOP lawmaker to oppose the Blunt amendment. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, a Republican, was absent for the vote but would have voted for the amendment and against the motion to table.

In July 2011, the Institute of Medicine recommended several mandatory health services, as called for in President Obama’s health law. This included a recommendation requiring health care plans to provide controversial preventive health services, including birth control, drugs that may cause abortions and emergency contraception. The Blunt Amendment would prevent health care providers and insurers from being forced to violate their principles to offer services they are morally opposed to, and it guarantees that all Americans are not penalized or discriminated against for exercising their rights of conscience.

The mandate has already become the subject of several lawsuits.

Tell Obama: Stop This Pro-Abortion Mandate

Meanwhile, more than a dozen state attorneys general have signed onto a joint letter Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning started coordinating  against the controversial Obama mandate requiring religious employers to cover birth control and drugs that can cause abortions

Bruning has contacted each of his colleagues in 49 states and has already been joined by a dozen, including South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. Together, the three lawmakers have co-signed a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebilius, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis over the Obama mandate.

Also, the largest Catholic pro-life group and Catholic television station have filed suit against the new Obama mandate that forces religious employers like them to pay for birth control and abortion-causing drugs in employee health insurance. The EWTN Global Catholic Network filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Birmingham, Alabama against the Department of Health & Human Services, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and other government agencies seeking to stop the imposition of the anti-conscience mandate as well as asking the court for a declaratory judgment that the mandate is unconstitutional.

Priests for Life, a New York based international pro-life organization of Catholic clergy and laity, filed a lawsuit against the Obama Administration in an effort to seek injunctive relief from impending regulations that would require the organization to pay for employee health insurance that covers abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization.

The Obama administration asked a federal court to dismiss yet another lawsuit filed against the Obama administration over its mandate.

This was its first opportunity to explain to the court and the country why the mandate is not illegal and unconstitutional. The Obama administration did not defend the constitutionality of the mandate, but said the lawsuit should be thrown out because the administration plans to revise the mandate to make it on insurance companies to pay for coverage rather than employers, who will still have to make referrals.

“Plaintiff’s challenge to the preventive services coverage regulations is not fit for judicial review because defendants [Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius] have indicated that they will propose and finalize changes to the regulations that are intended to accommodate plaintiff’s religious objections to providing contraception coverage,” the Department of Justice (DOJ) wrote in its brief to the Washington, D.C. District Court.

Obama officials claim the mandate does not put forth any “immediate injury” to religious groups.

Luke Goodrich, Deputy General Counsel of the Becket Fund, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic university, says he thinks the Obama administrations argument will not stand up in court.

“It doesn’t argue that the mandate is legal; it doesn’t argue that the mandate is constitutional,” Goodrich said. “Instead, it begs the court to ignore the lawsuit because the government plans to change the mandate at some unspecified date in the future.”

“Apparently, the administration has decided that the mandate, as written and finalized, is constitutionally indefensible,” said Hannah Smith, senior counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty “Its only hope is to ask the court to look the other way based on an empty promise to possibly change the rules in the future.”

The panel that put together the mandate has been condemned for only having pro-abortion members even though polling shows Americans are opposed to the mandate.

More than 50 members of Congress banded together at a press conference 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 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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.