By Julian Pecquet - 11/02/11 03:15 PM EDT
“When the healthcare law was being debated last Congress, the proponents adamantly refuted claims that this would be a federal government takeover of our healthcare system,” said Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Health. “Now, we have the federal Department of Health and Human Services forcing every single person in this country to pay for services that they may morally oppose.
“Whether one supports or opposes the healthcare law, we should universally support the notion that the federal government should be prohibited from taking coercive actions to force people to abandon their religious principles.”
Democrats said the hearing was part of a broader Republican assault against women’s sexual health.
“If you have moral convictions, you can keep them,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), the top Democrat on the subcommittee. “Just don’t try to impose them on everybody else.”
Witnesses invited to testify largely mirrored the lawmakers’ arguments.
“Until now,” said Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington chancellor Jane Belford, “federal law has never prevented religious employers … from providing for the needs of their employees with a health plan that is consistent with the Church’s moral teachings. This would change under the HHS mandate.”
The archdiocese and other religious groups support legislation from Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) that would permit a healthcare plan to “decline coverage of specific items and services that are contrary to the religious beliefs of the sponsor, issuer or other entity offering the plan — or the purchaser or beneficiary.”
Other witnesses said the vast majority of Americans — including Catholics — support coverage of contraceptive services.
“Having failed to convince Catholics in the pews, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and other conservative Catholic organizations are now attempting to impose their personal beliefs on all people by seeking special protection for their ‘conscience rights,’” said Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. “They claim to represent all Catholics when, in truth, theirs is the minority view.”