Senate GOP pushes to shield faith groups from contraception rule

Senate Republicans are pushing legislation to overturn the Obama administration’s decision that the health plans of faith-based organizations must cover contraception if they serve people of multiple religious backgrounds.

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) are leading the effort.

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“This is about whether the government of the United States should have the power to go in and tell a faith-based organization that they have to pay for something that they teach their members shouldn’t be doing,” said Rubio.

“I hope that the Senate and the House will act on it as well because the American people are asking us to,” he said.

Rubio became aware of the issue while attending a church service where an officiant read a letter from the Catholic archdiocese opposing the administration’s decision. Rubio told his staff the next day to draft legislation to exempt faith-based organizations from the new mandate.

"What the administration has done is really unprecedented," said Ayotte. "I would call on the president to overturn these Health and Human Services regulations, to stop [his attacks] on religious freedom and to really change the direction of what we have seen."

Blunt unveiled in August a broader bill to shield religiously affiliated organizations from having to provide services that contradicted their teachings. Rubio and Ayotte co-sponsored Blunt’s bill.

The lawmakers are deciding how to put together a unified legislative response to the Obama administration

“The short answer is we’re discussing the appropriate response. The three senators you’ve heard from are involved in those discussions,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) told reporters.

McConnell and other Republicans will try to offer their bill as an amendment to legislation on the floor.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday Congress would repeal the regulation on contraception.

A Senate Republican aide said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) would draft a House companion to the Rubio legislation.

“What we’ve seen in this administration now is the trampling of that First Amendment protection and a systematic dismantling of religious liberty for people in this country. We believe the president and hopefully his administration will walk back from this,” said Senate Republican Conference Committee Chairman John Thune (S.D.).

Administration officials have emphasized the policy provides an exemption for churches and houses of worship.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday that the president would try to “allay some of the concerns expressed.”

—Amie Parnes and Julian Pecquet contributed to this report.