By Elise Viebeck - 08/01/12 05:05 PM EDT
House Republicans called the Obama administration's birth-control mandate "religious bigotry" and compared it to the events of Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11, 2001.
The heated remarks came at a press conference marking the mandate's first day.
"One is December 7 — that is Pearl Harbor Day. Another was September 11 — that was the day of the terrorist attack.
"I want you to remember August 1, 2012 — the attack on our religious freedom. That is a date that will live in infamy, along with those other dates."
Starting Wednesday, most employers will have to cover contraception in their health plans without a co-pay.
Republicans have denounced the policy as an attack on the religious freedom of people who object to birth control or consider some forms equal to abortion.
Another freshman, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), said the mandate marks the return of "anti-Catholic bigotry" to American life.
"We thought we were past that," he said, "but the mandate from this administration represents the rearing of its head again."
House Republican leadership, striving to keep its focus on taxes, encouraged the freshmen to take responsibility for the press conference.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) released a statement saying the Health and Human Services mandate "must be reversed."
"On this day, let us renew our determination to reverse the mandate and restore the religious liberty that has been demolished by the Obama Administration’s actions," he said.
The new policy covers a range of preventive healthcare services apart from birth control, including disease screenings and counseling for women who are breastfeeding or are victims of domestic violence.
But the birth-control provision remains the most controversial, and 24 lawsuits have been filed in response.
Under the policy, employees of some religiously affiliated institutions, such as Catholic hospitals and schools, will receive birth control directly from their insurance company, still without a co-pay. Churches and houses of worship are exempt altogether.