Sebelius: Didn’t Talk to Bishops About Obama Mandate

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 15, 2012   |   2:39PM   |   Washington, DC

During questioning today before a U.S. Senate panel, pro-abortion HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admitted she did not contact the nation’s Catholic bishops before issuing a revised Obamacare mandate they strongly oppose.

The original mandate required religious groups to pay for insurance coverage containing birth control and drugs that can induce abortions and the revise mandate requires them to refer women to insurance companies for free coverage.

According to a Politico report, pro-life Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, queried Sebelius about the discussions leading up to the adoption of the revised mandate.

“I did not speak with the Catholic bishops,” Sebelius told Hatch. “I know that the president has spoken to the bishops on several occasions, yes.”

Hatch followed up by asking whether the administration or Obama campaign officials spoke with abortion rights groups including Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

“I assume some of those groups were talked to,” she said but added that she didn’t know for sure.

Hatch also pressed for a response to a letter he sent, along with other senators, asking whether HHS conducted an analysis of the legality of the contraception coverage requirement. Sebelius said she didn’t know where the letter was but pledged to “respond as rapidly as I possibly can.”

Hatch asked Sebelius, “I wrote you last July that your proposed contraceptive mandate would be ‘an affront to the natural rights to life, religious liberty and personal conscience.’ I note for the record that your response to my letter completely ignored this issue. Last October, 27 Senators joined me in writing you again, asking for any analysis requested or obtained by HHS regarding these religious liberty issues. The response from your department completely ignored that request. There were 27 of us who asked for it. The President’s Chief of Staff and Press Secretary have claimed that this mandate is consistent with the First Amendment, and the final rule you issued last Friday states that it is consistent with the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was the bill that I brought to the Congress. Let me just ask you again, did HHS conduct or request any analysis of the constitutional or statutory religious freedom issues?”

Sebelius responded, “Well we certainly had our legal department look at a whole host of legal issues.”

Hatch then asked her, “Did you ask the Justice Department?”

Sebelius responded, “I did not. No sir.”

Sebelius also acknowledged for the first time that she did not consult with the Conference of Bishops, the nation’s leading organization of the Catholic Church, before revising the rule last Friday, but that pro-abortion groups had likely been consulted with.

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.