Hoyer Won’t Say Whether Government Can Force Businesses to Provide a Product Free of Charge

By Thomas Cloud | February 15, 2012 | 10:12 AM EST

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) did not say whether or not the federal government had the constitutional ability to force grocery stores to provide free bread if it has the ability to force insurers to provide free contraceptives when asked about it at his Tuesday pen and pad session.

At his weekly “pen-and-pad” news conference, CNSNews.com asked Hoyer: “If the federal government has the constitutional power to force insurance companies to give people free contraceptives does it also have the power to force grocery stores to give people free bread? Basically where is the constitutional authorization for the contraceptive?

Hoyer replied that “the premise of your question is wrong,” saying, “It’s not a question of forcing insurance companies, in fact most insurance companies believe, as I understand it, that it is in their financial interest to do so because over the long term it’s a net zero consequence.”

Hoyer added: “What the president has done I think is appropriate. I think what he’s done is try to accommodate those who have a religious objection to contraception and said ok the arrangement will be between the insurer and the insured, not between the employer and the insured. I think that’s trying to go in a direction to accommodate the balance between freedom of religion, which I think we ought to honor, and the safety and health of our people.

Under the regulations adopted by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, insurance companies are required to provide contraceptives free of charge.

Last Friday, as an “accommodation” to religious employers -- particularly Catholic -- President Obama announced that if a woman’s employer is a religious hospital or charity that refuses to provide contraceptives, including abortifacients and sterilizations, then the insurance company – not the hospital -- must provide contraceptives free of charge.

As President Obama said last week, “But if a woman’s employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company--not the hospital, not the charity--will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without co-pays and without hassles.”

Members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and others say that with the regulations, the federal government is asking both employers and individuals to violate their consciences.

Forcing companies to provide a product free of charge adds another twist to the constitutionality of the recent health-care bill, which is already under fire by those who say the federal government cannot force citizens to buy a private product.