Sen. Conrad Dodges Question on Constitutionality of Mandating Health Insurers to Provide Contraceptives, Morning-After Pill

By Elizabeth Harrington | February 15, 2012 | 4:56 PM EST

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) (AP Photo)

( – Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) dodged the question of whether the Obama administration has the constitutional authority to force private health insurance companies to provide contraceptives free of charge, including those that induce abortion, but he did say that “contraception services save money,” which apparently is in the interest of insurers.

The issue arose because the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) finalized an Obamacare regulation in January that would require all health insurance policies – except those for a strictly religious group, such as a church – to cover sterilizations and FDA-approved contraceptives, including those that induce abortion.

That rule sparked opposition from numerous religious groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and at least 158 members of Congress. As a result. President Barack Obama, on Feb. 10, announced that all health insurers would have to provide contraceptives and abortion drugs free of charge, and that people who objected for religious reasons would not be paying for those services directly anyway; the burden would be on the insurance company.

On Tuesday at the Capitol, asked Sen. Conrad (D-N.D.), “Does the Constitution grant the federal government the power to tell private companies that they have to provide contraception free of charge?”

Conrad did not answer the question but instead said, “Look, I’m not privy to the negotiations that have occurred between the companies and the administration. But if you think about it, it saves money.  Contraception services save money.  So, you can see the interest of insurance companies to make sure those services are provided, whether they are paid for specifically and separately.”


President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

In his remarks on Feb. 10, Obama had explained, “Under the rule, women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services -- no matter where they work.  So that core principle remains.  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.”


The health insurance companies, under the Obamacare regulation, will have to provide those services and cover their costs starting on Aug. 1. Everyone who buys health insurance – alone, through an employer, or by third party – will be financing contraception and abortion drugs, such as ella, even if those products and services violate their religious faith.

The use of artificial contraception and abortion-inducing drugs is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church, and is also opposed by many Protestants, Jews and Muslims.


This frame grab from video shows a box of Plan B morning after pill. (AP Photo)

When asked about individuals, not an employer, having to subsidize a service that violates their religious beliefs, Conrad said, “Look, I don’t think this is the perfect resolution. Hopefully, in this period of time we have before any of this is implemented, there’ll be more work done to try to resolve this in a way that satisfies religious institutions, including—of course the churches are already exempt, as you know—but hospitals, other religiously affiliated organizations do have a requirement to provide insurance.”


“What the administration tried to do was take out the contraception portion so they weren’t having to pay for that directly,” said Conrad, “but I’m sure there’ll be additional opportunities to work this out because where we are now I don’t think is satisfactory.”

“If our religious institutions are uncomfortable, then we’ve got to find more ways to work this out,” he said.

President Obama described the regualtion as a “a solution that works for everyone.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called Obama’s solution “unacceptable,” saying, “The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.”