The U.S. Senate urgently needs to support legislation that would apply longstanding federal law on conscience protection to Obamacare. That’s the message from the nation’s Catholic bishops to members of Congress.
The chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is pressing for a pro-life remedy to the Obama mandate that requires religious groups to pay for coverage for their employees including birth control and drugs that may cause abortions.
In a February 15 letter to all senators, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston explained how the “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act” (S. 1476) is especially needed since a new mandate by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will force almost all health insurance plans to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives, including drugs that can cause an early abortion, and sterilizations.
DiNardo said the nation’s Catholic bishops are also concerned that many religious organizations will not be exempt from the mandate.
This rule, Cardinal DiNardo noted, was finalized on February 10. On the same day the White House announced it would develop a mechanism for applying the rule to non-exempt religious employers, claiming it would shift costs for contraceptive coverage to insurers.
“It is little or no comfort that, rather than being forced to propose such coverage, religious organizations will simply have it imposed on them,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “The argument that they will not really have to subsidize the coverage, because insurers will offer it ‘free of charge,’ runs up against the reality that this coverage will be integrated into their overall health plan, and subsidized with the premiums paid by employer and employee for that plan.”
He added: “The Administration’s rule makes no provision for the rights of insurers, even religiously affiliated insurers, but places responsibility for enforcing the mandate more squarely than ever on their shoulders. This is a radical departure from current law, under which a health plan that excludes contraception can be sold even to federal employees if the carrier has any religious objection to such coverage.” [related]
Cardinal DiNardo outlined the scope of the proposed Senate bill, noting that it does not support discriminatory decisions to withhold basic coverage, does not free anyone from responsibilities under other state or federal laws, and does not allow anyone to deny coverage for high-cost treatments using morality and religion as a pretext.
Cardinal DiNardo explained what the bill does achieve: “It states that the new lists of mandated benefits for private health plans created under PPACA will not forbid those who provide, sponsor and purchase health coverage to negotiate a health plan that is consistent with the religious beliefs and moral convictions of those involved.”Thus, he said, “it simply ensures that new requirements under PPACA are not used to take away a freedom of conscience that Americans have enjoyed under federal law until now.”
“If the needless dispute over this issue were resolved through this legislation, Congress and the Administration could return to the most pressing of all the real problems – the fact that many millions of Americans still lack basic coverage for health care that supports and sustains life,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “Let us begin the task by respecting each other’s values that call so many of us to work for life-affirming health care for all in the first place.”
The letter comes on the same day that more than 50 members of Congress rallied together at a press event to push for legislation against the mandate.
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.
“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.