Congress Told HHS Mandate Fines Could Total $620,000

National   Steven Ertelt   Feb 28, 2012   |   7:36PM    Washington, DC

Members of Congress heard from pro-life advocates today who told them in a hearing of the laundry list of problems associated with the new mandate the Obama administration put in place.

The mandate has drawn strong opposition from religious groups concerned that they would have to pay for birth control and drugs that may cause abortions for their members or employees. Republicans in the House sought to bring light to that in a hearing entitled, “Executive Overreach: The HHS Mandate Versus Religious Liberty.”

Asma Uddin, an attorney with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told the Judiciary Committee of the United States House of Representatives, that “At the heart of this position, however, lies a profound misunderstanding about the nature of religion and the scope of constitutional protections for religious liberty.”

“Many religious individuals and organizations that have conscientious objections to abortion object to the use of Plan B and ella because they believe, and scientific evidence supports their belief, that these drugs constitute abortifacients. That is, Plan B and ella can prevent a human embryo, which these religious groups understand to include a fertilized egg before it implants in the uterus, from implanting in the wall of the uterus thereby causing the death of the embryo,” she explained.

Not only are the groups affected concerned about birth control and drugs like ella that can cause abortion, Uddin said, “The fines imposed on religious employers that refuse to violate their consciences are significant.”

“For example, a charitable organization with 100 employees will have to pay the federal government $140,000 per year for the “privilege” of not underwriting medical
services it believes are immoral,” she added.

“Given these coercive burdens on the religious freedom of organizations and individuals that hold religious beliefs against contraception and/or abortion, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has brought several lawsuits. The lawsuits, each of which make the same claims, are on behalf of (1) Belmont Abbey College (BAC), a Catholic liberal arts college founded by Benedictine monks; (2) Colorado Christian University (CCU), an interdenominational Christian college; (3) Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), a television network that serves to spread Catholic teachings; and (4) Ave Maria University, a Catholic University dedicated to transmitting authentic Catholic values to students,” she continued. “For failing to comply by the Mandate, BAC would pay approximately $340,000 annually, CCU would pay $500,000; EWTN would pay $620,000; and Ave Maria close to $340,000.”

Thus far, the Administration has responded to only one of the four lawsuits, and fails to address in its brief any of the claims.

Jeanne Monahan, director of the Family Research Council’s (FRC) Center for Human Dignity, also testified before the panel.

“In a letter to the President and members of Congress recently signed by thousands of women of 18 different faiths and representing doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, mothers, community care workers, business owners, scholars and more women voiced their ardent opposition to the mandate,” she said. “The letter included these observations: ‘We listened to prominent women purport to speak for us. We watched them duck the fundamental religious-liberty issues at stake.”

Monahan continued, ” No one speaks for all women on these issues. Those who purport to do so are simply attempting to deflect attention from the serious religious liberty issues at stake. We call on President Obama, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and our representatives in Congress to respect religious voices, to respect religious liberty, and to allow religious institutions and individuals to continue to provide witness to their faiths in all their fullness.'”

“The contraceptive mandate is an unprecedented directive which deeply conflicts with religious and conscience freedom protections the American people currently receive. In our democratic society governed by the U.S. Constitution, it is not the role of this Administration to dictate what does or does not violate another person’s conscience on matters as critical as life and death. It is the job of the government to defend those rights, not trample them,” she said.

She concluded:  “This Administration’s act of discrimination against people of faith, and women of faith, must be stopped. As C.S. Lewis said, you can be sincere, and sincerely wrong. We don’t question the President’s motives, but we think he is wrong. You may disagree with me, and think that I and the thousands of women like me are wrong. Fine, but do not discriminate against us and force us to violate our consciences. We urge you not to allow this President to discriminate against those with moral or religious objections to this mandate coverage of contraceptives, sterilization services, and abortifacients.”

Seven states have filed lawsuits seeking to overturn the controversial mandate the Obama administration put in place that has sparked strong opposition from pro-life groups because of its violations of religious liberty. Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning started coordinating a lawsuit with other states attorney general recently. He led seven states in asking a federal judge to block the Obama administration mandate by filing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court of Nebraska alleging that it violates the First Amendment rights of groups that object to the requirement to pay for birth control and drugs that may cause abortions.

He said it “unconstitutionally expands congressional authority and infringes upon individual liberty.”

Tell Obama: Stop This Pro-Abortion Mandate

A new national poll Rasmussen Reports conducted finds Americans oppose the Obama administration mandate requiring religious employers to pay for coverage for birth control (which also includes drugs that may cause early abortions).

This new survey follows a previous Rasmussen poll asking, “The requirement to provide contraceptives for women violates deeply held beliefs of some churches and religious organizations. If providing such coverage violates the beliefs of a church or religious organization, should the government still require them to provide coverage for contraceptives?”

Some 50 percent of those polled said no while 39 percent of Americans agreed.

Leading pro-life groups are pushing for an amendmentin the Senate to overturn the mandate.

The mandate has already become the subject of several lawsuits.

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.

Late last week, 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.

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.