House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday vowed that Congress would repeal an Obama administration regulation requiring employers, including religious organizations, to provide birth-control coverage in their employees’ health plans.
“If the president does not reverse the [Health and Human Services] Department’s attack on religious freedom, then the Congress, acting on behalf of the American people and the Constitution we are sworn to uphold and defend, must,” Boehner said in a rare floor speech.
The Obama administration’s decision has touched off a political firestorm with the Catholic Church, which opposes birth control. While such groups as the church would be exempt from the policy, hospitals, charities and universities affiliated with the Catholic Church and other religious organizations would have to provide the coverage.
Priests at an estimated 70 percent of parishes across the country read a statement protesting the decision at services last week.
Boehner’s decision shows congressional Republicans sense the adminsitration is vulnerable on the point.
“In the days ahead, the House will approach this matter fairly and deliberately, through regular order and the appropriate legislative channels,” Boehner said in his speech.
Boehner said the issue has primary jurisdiction in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and that this committee will take the lead on the issue to find an “effective and appropriate solution.” He specifically called on Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) to find a legislative solution.
“I welcome his efforts to consider all possible options as his committee proceeds with its work,” Boehner said of Upton. “This attack by the federal government on religious freedom in our country cannot stand, and will not stand.”
The White House has stood by its policy amid withering attacks from Republicans and some religious organizations, though there have been some indications that it’s open to revisiting the mandate.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that the administration will discuss religious groups’ concerns during the one-year delay it included in the new policy.
“The point of the transition period is to hold discussions to see if there is a way to allay some of these concerns as we implement the policy,” he said.
But last week, a senior administration official said the transition period was established simply to give employers time to modify their plans and add coverage they might not currently provide. Asked whether the administration would reconsider the policy, the official said only that the policy was crafted carefully and represented an “appropriate balance” between access to healthcare and religious objections.
Boehner’s remarks followed several morning speeches from Republicans who were also upset at the birth-control rule.
“What we are seeing now is the unfortunate fruits of the logical extension of the cesspool of Jacques Rousseau and his civil religion, whereby which your true religion was tolerated as long as it was subservient to the state,” Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) said. “That is not what this nation is about — it is a clear violation of your constitutional right to freely exercise your religion.”
One Democrat, Rep. Gwen Moore (Wis.), spoke in favor of the rule, and said it would exempt 335,000 churches and other places of worship. She also said it is appropriate that the rule does not exempt broader religious-backed entities that are not places of worship.
Moore also said the concept of separation of church and state should not trump women’s access to birth control.
“The concept of separation of church and state protects these 335,000 places of worship, but the concept of separation of church and state does not mean that a church can use their bully pulpit to separate millions of women from critical healthcare benefits,” she said.
Amie Parnes contributed.