House GOP Leadership Rebuffs Members on Conscience Exemption for CR

By Fred Lucas | March 6, 2013 | 4:45 PM EST

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Speaker John Boehner (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

( – Despite pleas from 14 House Republicans, the GOP-proposed House continuing resolution to keep the federal government running through September will not have a conscience exemption for employers under the Obamacare mandate to provide free abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception.

Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) thought this was a lost opportunity. “These vital protections were in place until President Obama and Obamacare began to dismantle them,” he told in a statement.

“The House needs to make every effort to reestablish them as soon as possible. The vote on this week’s CR presented an ideal opportunity to attach this vital bill to must-pass legislation and I'm disappointed to see that opportunity squandered,” Fleming said.

Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) and Fleming were the lead signers of a letter with 12 other Republicans calling for a conscience exemption for for-profits and non-profits from the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate. Another signer was Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.).

“I have long stood for the constitutional right to religious freedom and cannot remain silent as this assault on religious liberties takes place as part of the government health care legislation,” Hartzler told in a written statement. “There must be a constitutional exemption for both non-profit and for-profit entities.”

Hartzler added, “I also firmly believe that individuals purchasing insurance under the president’s health care law must, in accordance with the U.S. Constitution, be extended conscience exemptions.”

The letter to House GOP leadership said, “This attack on religious freedom demands immediate congressional action. Nothing short of a full exemption for both non-profit and for-profit entities will satisfy the demands of the Constitution and common sense.”

“Congress cannot ignore the relentless assault on the First Amendment right to religious freedom, and must act before the PPACA provisions are fully enacted in August of this year,” the letter continued.

The PPACA is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

The members addressed the letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Chairman Jack Kingston (R-Ga.).                `

Other signers to the letter were Reps. Rene Ellmers (R-N.C.); Candice Miller (R- Mich.); Martha Roby (R- Ala.); Ann Wagner (R-Mo.); Marsha Blackburn (R- Tenn.); Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.); Lynn Jenkins (R- Kan.); Jackie Walorski (R- Ind.); Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.); Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R- Fla.); and Kristi Noem (R- S.D.).

“We respectfully request that you ensure that adequate protections for these fundamental liberties are codified in U.S. law as the Appropriations Committee drafts legislation to fund the federal government through the remainder of the current fiscal year, FY 2013,” the letter said.

The letter said that what the Obama administration refers to as a religious accommodation – which exempts churches from the mandate – is not adequate.

“The so-called ‘accommodation’ provides no remedy for individuals and small business owners, such as Hobby Lobby, and falls short of addressing concerns of religious non-profits and charities,” the letter said.

The letter references Hobby Lobby and religious bookseller Mardel, Inc., both owned by the same family, which are suing to block the mandate. HHS fines for non-compliance could be $1.3 million per day.

On Tuesday, Black, Fleming and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) introduced Health Care Conscience Rights Act.