WASHINGTON (EWTN NEWS/CNA)—About 50 members of Congress convened to oppose the Obama administration’s contraception mandate and to voice support for legislation that would overturn it.
“We have come together to say it’s time to act to protect Americans’ most basic rights: our religious freedom and rights of conscience,” said Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., at a Feb. 15 press conference.
Fortenberry called for “swift action” on the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which he introduced in the U.S. House last March to repeal the mandate and amend the 2010 health-care overhaul to preserve conscience rights for employers and health-care providers.
The bill, which currently has 190 co-sponsors in the House, has been supported by the U.S. bishops and pro-life groups across the country.
“The final rule that was filed last Friday did not make any changes to the HHS mandate,” said Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill. “We still need to pass the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act in order to protect the conscience rights of all Americans.”
The Obama administration has drawn heavy criticism since it first announced a new federal mandate that would require virtually all employers to purchase health-care plans that include contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs at no cost to employees.
The mandate met with widespread objections from those who argued that it violated religious liberty. Most religious employers would be required to abide by the regulation even if doing so violated their consciences.
As opposition mounted from both religious and secular organizations, President Barack Obama announced an “accommodation” for religious freedom on Feb. 10. Instead of directly purchasing the coverage that they found morally objectionable, religious employers under the new policy would be forced to buy health-care plans from insurance companies that offer the coverage for free.
However, critics of the new rule argue that it does not adequately protect religious freedom. They point out that insurance companies will factor the “free” coverage into the prices of their health-care packages, so religious employers will ultimately still be paying for products that violate their consciences.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who co-chairs the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, called the final rule “a direct, obnoxious, unprecedented government attack on the conscience rights” of Americans.
He said that the coercive mandate “will impose incalculable harm” on millions of children educated in faith-based schools, as well as the poor, sick, disabled and elderly who are served by faith-based groups.
“At its core, this is a religious-liberty issue,” added Sen. David Vitter, R-La.
Vitter, the only senator present at the press conference, is one of nearly 40 co-sponsors of the Senate version of the bill.
Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., said that Congress has a duty to protect the American people from attacks on the First Amendment.
“Religious freedom is a cornerstone of our great nation,” he said. “I am proud to join my colleagues in bipartisan support of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act.”