(CNSNews.com) - Twenty-three Senate Republicans joined 55 Democrats last Thursday to confirm Sylvia Mathews Burwell to replace Kathleen Sebelius as secretary of Health and Human Services. Burwell was sworn-in today.
During her confirmation process, no senator on the two committees that took her testimony asked her any questions about the Obamacare contraception-sterilization-abortion-inducing drug mandate that Sebelius issued in 2012. That regulation is now the target of 100 lawsuits arguing that it violates the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion by forcing Christian to act against their faith.
Burwell will now succeed Sebelius not only as HHS secretary but as defendant in these lawsuits.
Burwell also evaded directly answering written questions from Sen. Pat Roberts (R.-Kan.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R.-Texas) and Sen. Mike Lee (R.-Utah) asking her if she would follow through on a commitment that Sebelius made, but never honored, to provide Congress with a list of all the health insurance plans offered on the federal Obamacare exchanges that do and do not cover abortions.
Under the “preventive services” provision in the Affordable Care Act, Sebelius issued a regulation in 2012 that required virtually all health insurance plans in the United States, except those directly secured by a church, to cover without fees or co-pay “all Food and Drug administration approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient counselling for all women with reproductive capacity.”
All FDA-approved contraceptives include drugs such as Ella and Plan B, and intrauterine devices, that can terminate the life of a human embryo after conception.
The Catholic bishops of the United States unanimously approved a statement declaring the regulation “an unjust and illegal mandate” and a “violation of personal civil rights.”
As of today, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, 100 lawsuits have been filed against the administration, naming HHS Secretary Sebelius and others as defendants, arguing that this regulation violates the constitutional guarantee to the free exercise of religion.
In 59 of those lawsuits, courts have issued injunctions stopping enforcement of the regulation until final rulings on its legality and constitutionality are made. Plaintiffs range from the Catholic Archbishop of Washington, D.C., to Autocam Corp. of Kentwood, Mich.
On March 25, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, a case brought by a private company challenging the regulation. The court is expected to rule on that case by the end of this month. However, it is unknown whether the court will rule in favor or against Hobby Lobby, or, if it does rule in favor of Hobby Lobby, whether the ruling will be broad enough to cover all the other plaintiffs who have sued.
When Burwell appeared at her confirmation hearings last month in the Senate Finance and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees, no senator asked her a question about the regulation.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R.-Kan.) did tell Burwell at her Finance Committee hearing that he intended to send her a written question about the "transparency" of plans sold on the federal exchanges that cover medical abortions (as opposed to pharmaceutical ones).
Roberts then sent Burwell a question asking whether she would give Congress a list of insurance plans on the federal exchanges that do and do not cover abortions:
“When Secretary Sebelius testified during a subcommittee hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee last October, she promised to provide Congress with a list of federal insurers on the exchange that do and do not include abortion coverage in their plans,” Roberts said. “To date, Congress has not received that information. If you were confirmed as the next HHS Secretary, would you be willing to provide Congress with that information?”
Burwell’s answer to Roberts did not directly respond to his question.
“As OMB Director, I was not directly engaged on this topic,” Burwell wrote. “I understand that CMS is committed to ensuring that HealthCare.gov provides the key information consumers need to make an informed selection from among the QHPs available to them. Additionally, each plan in the Marketplace must include a Summary of Benefits and Coverage and a link to the plan brochure, where consumers can learn more about which services are covered. If confirmed, I will continue the work of the CMS to assure that consumers have access to information regarding the coverage they are purchasing in the Marketplaces.”
On May 16, Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee sent Burwell a letter that, among other things, asking her essentially the same question.
“To date, Congress had not received the list of insurers that do and do not include abortion coverage in their plans, even though Secretary Sebelius promised to provide such information,” Cruz and Lee wrote. “Will you committee to delivering such a list? If yes, when can we expect it? Additionally, do you believe all Americans should be informed about elective abortion coverage prior to their selection and purchase of a plan? If so, would you be willing to ensure that such information is available and clearly identifiable to consumers prior to enrollment in a plan?”
Burwell’s response to Cruz and Lee repeated almost verbatim her non-direct response to Roberts.
On Thursday, according to the official roll call, which can be viewed by clicking here, the Senate voted 78 to 17 to confirm Burwell as HHS secretary. Seventeen senators voted against her and 5 did not vote. The 78 votes for confirmation included 55 Democrats and 23 Republicans. The 17 no votes were all Republicans. The senators who did not vote included 4 Republicans and 1 Democrat. Sen. Lee, who opposed Burwell's confirmation, did not vote because he had gone to Rome to meet with Pope Francis.
“Sadly, Ms. Burwell’s tenure as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, as well as her performance in the Senate committee confirmation hearings, gives me concern that she will continue in the pattern of obfuscation and evasion established by outgoing Secretary Kathleen Sebelius,” Lee said in remarks on her confirmation.
“Senator Roberts voted against the confirmation of Burwell for a number of reasons, chief among them concerns over abortion and the implementation of Obamacare,” said Roberts’ Spokesperson Sarah Little.