Republicans Denounce--But Might Pay For--Attack on Religious Liberty

By Elizabeth Harrington | August 2, 2012 | 7:30 AM EDT

( – Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.) refused to say Wednesday whether she will vote for a continuing resolution that contains funding to implement the Health and Human Services regulation requiring health plans to offer sterilizations, contraceptives, and abortifacients free of charge.

She called the mandate “offensive” to religious liberty.

Buerkle joined a large group of Congressional Republicans at a press conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday to denounce the contraception regulation, vowing to “stand up” and defend religious freedom as defined by the First Amendment.

After the press conference, however, Buerkle said she would wait to see the continuing resolution to see if it is consistent with her views.

(Congress is expected to vote on the CR after its August recess. The six-month stopgap funding bill will avoid a government shutdown after Sept. 30 while funding the government for another six months at the current level of $1.047 trillion.) asked Buerkle: “The members here said today that [they would take] any way, any means necessary to get rid of this mandate.  So, will you personally vote for a continuing resolution that funds this mandate after Sept. 30?”

“I think to predict what we’re going to do and to speculate as we go forward -- we have not seen a CR. When we see the CR, when we see what’s included in the CR, then we’ll have that debate,” Buerkle said. followed up: “But there is talk that the leadership in the House and Senate has come to an agreement to keep the government funded at the same levels?”

“Well, I look forward to seeing what they’ve agreed to and seeing whether or not it’s consistent with my views,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Tuesday that the Senate, House and White House had agreed on a six-month continuing resolution -- in the absence of regular appropriations bills -- to keep the government running at current funding levels through March.

At Wednesday’s news conference, Buerkle said the federal government was established to protect citizens’ rights, such as religious liberty.

“When they get it wrong, the American people and all of us will stand up to make sure that our First Amendment and our most fundamental right as Americans that we have in the Constitution will be protected,” she said.

Funding for implementing the contraception mandate could be blocked by the Republican-led House of Representatives if lawmakers choose to vote against it when they return from their August recess.

But House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and other House Republicans have indicated that they will fund the implementation of the regulation, a mandate that Boehner himself has described “an unambiguous attack on religious freedom in our country.”

Regardless of party, most politicians want to avoid a government shutdown -- something that would anger voters in the weeks before the general election.

Buerkle, who has worked as a nurse, has taken a hard line against the HHS mandate.

“Any time you ask any member of a religious organization or group to violate their beliefs, that’s exactly what happens,” Buerkle said, in response to comments by Senator Tom Harkin that likened forcing a Catholic to purchase health insurance that covers sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs to forcing Quakers to pay taxes to cover a war.

“Whether it’s the Quakers or whether it’s telling someone they have to have a blood transfusion, whether it’s telling someone they have to violate their conscience -- that’s a violation of our First Amendment right,” she said.  “And it’s such an essential right.”

“It is the essence of what the United States of America is all about,” Buerkle said.  “It’s why people came to this country, so that they could have religious freedom, and that’s what is so offensive about this HHS rule.”

Sponsored Links