(CNSNews.com) – A bipartisan group of 154 House members – led by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) – sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking that she suspend a controversial rule that mandates that all insurance providers cover contraception for free.
“As pro-life Members of Congress, we are writing to voice our strong opposition to your final decision on the rule for mandatory contraceptive, sterilization, and abortifacients coverage in the individual and group health insurance market,” the February 6 letter said.
“This mandate will force religious-affiliated organizations that offer health insurance to cover contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortifacients, even if it is a clear violation of their conscience rights,” the letter said.
The letter added that forcing religious organizations that oppose contraception and sterilization to provide insurance that covers them to their employees, HHS is violating the First Amendment rights of those religious organizations.
“HHS’s latest decision to mandate contraceptive, sterilization, and abortifacients coverage is an unprecedented overreach by the federal government that infringes upon rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. This decision also will violate the conscience rights of those who, for moral or religious reasons, oppose abortion.”
The congressmen demanded that Sebelius halt the regulation and provide a full accounting of whether HHS took the opposition of religious groups into consideration.
“In your response to this letter, we request that you provide us specific details on the process followed in the reading and evaluating of the public comments submitted. Additionally, in light of the concerns mentioned, we respectfully request that you suspend the final rule until you can ensure that both employers and individuals are afforded their constitutionally protected conscience rights.”
The letter noted that there had been over 200,000 public comments on the rule and that “many” had been focused on the extremely narrow conscience exemption HHS had devised.
That exemption would allow only religious institutions that employ primarily members of their own faith – such as churches or seminaries – to opt out of the contraception mandate.
The regulation – originally enacted in August 2011 – mandates that all insurance providers cover all FDA-approved contraceptive services free of charge. Among those services are traditional contraceptives, emergency contraceptives like Plan B, and sterilization services – all of which are held to be immoral by the Catholic Church.
Catholic officials began to protest loudly in January when HHS announced it would not expand the conscience exemption to cover religious organizations that do not primarily employ members of their own faith – like hospitals and charities.
New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan said that the mandate would force people of faith to violate their consciences and the teachings of their church, violating their First Amendment rights.
“Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience,” Dolan said in a video message released Jan. 23.
“This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”