GOP lawmakers say spending bill should target contraception mandate

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The continuing resolution that House appropriators released Monday would not cut off funding for the Affordable Care Act, despite years of conservative pressure to defund the healthcare law. But Tuesday's letter, led by Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), indicates that fights over the health law could still roil the funding debate.

Black declined to say whether she would vote against the continuing resolution if it does not include provisions aimed at rolling back the contraception mandate.

"Congress cannot ignore the relentless assault on the First Amendment right to religious freedom, and must act before the (Affordable Care Act) provisions are fully enacted in August of this year," the lawmakers wrote to GOP leaders and appropriators in both chambers.

A coalition of nearly 40 women's-health groups, led by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, pushed back against the Republicans' proposals with a letter of their own Tuesday.

The groups noted broad public support for the requiring insurers to cover the full cost of birth control and noted that wider access to contraception translates into fewer unplanned pregnancies.

"Including language in a continuing resolution or omnibus appropriations measure to restrict women’s access to birth control would be bad policy and is contrary to our shared goals of improving women’s health," the coalition wrote. "We respectfully urge you to reject efforts to politicize the appropriations process for the remainder of fiscal year 2013 and oppose riders that are harmful to women’s health."

The healthcare law requires most employers to cover contraception in their employees' health plans, without charging a co-pay or deductible, alongside a series of other preventive services. 

Churches and houses of worship are exempt. Religious-affiliated employers, such as Catholic hospitals, don't have to pay for the coverage directly, but their insurance companies must still offer it to employees without any cost-sharing.

Religious groups want a much broader exemption — one that would allow any employer to opt out of the mandate based on his or her religious beliefs. Democrats and supporters of the health law say that would give employers far too much power over their workers' access to health services.

"The government's role should be to protect natural rights, not to take them away," Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) said at a press conference announcing the reintroduction of a bill to repeal the contraception mandate.

The bill would also allow doctors and nurses to sue if they are forced to perform an abortion over their religious objections.

Americans United for Life praised the push.

“The healthcare law is the largest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade, and includes the unprecedented move to force cooperation with a life-ending agenda or face punitive action,” AUL President Charmaine Yoest said in a statement. “AULA applauds the 13 women in Congress who are fighting for conscience rights through the budgeting process, and calls on all members of Congress to support this effort.” 


— This post was updated at 11:58 a.m.