WASHINGTON—A letter from 154 bipartisan members of Congress is urging the Obama administration to reverse a contraception mandate that religious employers say would require them to violate their consciences.
The Feb. 6 letter to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, condemned the recent mandate as an “unprecedented overreach by the federal government.”
Congressional leaders urged Sebelius to “reconsider the final rule” as it applies to employers and individuals who have moral or religious objections to the coverage required by the mandate.
They also asked her for “specific details on the process followed in the reading and evaluating of the public comments submitted” about the mandate.
The letter comes amid a storm of criticism over Sebelius’ recent announcement that virtually all employers will soon be required to purchase health-insurance plans that cover contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization.
In their letter, the congressmen noted that Sebelius’ department had received more than 200,000 comments on the rule during its public comment period. Many of these comments objected to the “narrow scope of the religious exemption” included in the mandate.
The religious exemption applies only to those organizations that exist to instill religious values and limit their employment and services to primarily members of their own faith. While most churches are covered by the exemption, huge numbers of religious schools, hospitals and charitable organizations are not.
However, despite the massive wave of criticism, Sebelius refused to broaden the exemption in issuing the final rule on Jan. 20.
In response, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., led a congressional effort to compose a letter voicing “strong opposition” to the mandate, which he described as “radical” and an “attack on the religious freedoms guaranteed to all Americans by the Bill of Rights.”
In their joint letter, congressional leaders observed that the mandate infringes upon the conscience rights not only of those who object to contraception, but also “of those who, for moral or religious reasons, oppose abortion.”
They explained that the regulation requires coverage of certain “drugs and devices that can function as abortifacients,” such as Plan B and “ella.”
They also said that the one-year extension granted to religiously affiliated organizations that object to the mandate “only delays the inevitable violation of conscience.”
The members of Congress asked Sebelius to consider the concerns that had been raised.
They requested that she “suspend the final rule” until an arrangement has been made to “ensure that both employers and individuals are afforded their constitutionally protected conscience rights.”