Sen. Nelson Opposes HHS Health Insurance Mandate on Contraceptives

By Christopher Goins and Patrick Burke | January 30, 2012 | 7:22 PM EST

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) (AP Photo)

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Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said he supports a repeal of the Health and Human Services (HHS) regulation that mandates that nearly all health insurance plans cover sterilizations and FDA-approved contraceptives, including those that induce abortions, adding that he thinks the administration is taking the wrong approach.

The regulation, as part of the Obama health care law, would require all Americans, unless they worked directly at a church, to pay for such health insurance plans. As a result, Catholics – and those with similar moral beliefs – would be forced to violate their conscience. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has condemned the rule as “an unprecedented attack on religious freedom.”

At a health care policy event in Washington, D.C. on Monday, asked Sen. Nelson: “Do you believe that government mandating that people – such as Catholics – pay for other people’s abortion drugs is a violation of their conscience and violation of religious freedom?

Sen. Nelson said: “I don’t believe it should be mandated, frankly. We’ve written a letter to HHS outlining our reasons for being against that approach. I don’t know that it pays for – there’s nothing in it that requires payment for abortions-by-demand. So there’s a lot of misunderstanding, a lot of misinformation out there. But when it comes to birth control items, I do understand that it mandates that and I don’t think it should.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. ( Starr)

The regulation, due to take effect for individual citizens and private business on Aug. 1 – churches have until Aug. 13, 2013 to meet compliance – mandates that certain FDA-approved contraceptives that can induce abortions, such as Plan B and ella, be covered through the health insurance plans without any fees or copayments.

Nelson spoke with after giving a speech at the 23rd Annual rural Health Policy Institute Conference, held at the Capitol Hilton.

Nelson said he supports legislation to repeal the regulation and, concerning the letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, he said, “We don’t put it [the letter] in terms of conscience,” but added, “No, I don’t agree with it [the regulation]. I think’s it wrong.”

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who also gave a speech at the conference, told that she too thinks that the government mandating that people pay for other people’s abortion drugs is a violation of their religious freedom and their conscience.

“I do,” Rodger said. “I have always supported the conscience clause and I think it’s very important that government respect the beliefs of individuals across the country.”

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Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told last Thursday that she thinks the Obama administration is moving in the wrong direction with the regulation.

“So it's something that I think that the administration has gone the wrong direction on,” Murkowski said. “How we respond to it here in the Congress I think remains to be seen.”