Conservatives want more time to fight against birth control mandate

Conservative House members expressed a desire Tuesday to fund the government only until Dec. 15 in order to force a fight over ObamaCare's birth control mandate.

Members of the House GOP discussed a proposal that would reopen the government through mid-December, just weeks before a provision of the mandate takes effect on Jan. 1 for religiously affiliated groups.

Republicans seemed adrift after canceling a vote on a debt-limit plan Tuesday night. 

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But members of the party signaled concerns about letting the Jan. 1 date pass without waging a battle over contraception. 

"It boils down to conscience protections that basically become compromised on the first of January, and that's bothersome to a lot of people," Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) told reporters Tuesday afternoon.

"It concerns a lot of people in our conference that a provision of the Affordable Care Act goes into effect and that is a violation of the conscious beliefs of a lot of members of our party."

Womack was referring to the expiration of a "safe harbor" for religiously affiliated institutions on Jan. 1 under the contraception mandate.

At that time, a modified version of the policy will take effect for religious groups like Catholic schools that object to contraception.

The modified policy will allow the employees of religious institutions to obtain free birth control directly from their insurance company.

The institutions themselves will not have to "contract, arrange, pay or refer for contraceptive coverage," according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Critics say the policy still does not go far enough to protect groups that oppose contraception.

Asked if ObamaCare's individual mandate also played a role in pushing the Dec. 15 timeline, Womack said, "I think it's mainly conscience."

Lawmakers like Womack argue that the policy also ought to spare businesses whose owners are religious and object to birth control.

Reps. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) suggested language weakening the mandate as a way to bring conservatives on board with Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) proposal earlier in the day.

The contraception policy requires most employers to cover a range of birth control methods in their employee health plans without cost-sharing.

Churches and houses of worship are exempt, and religiously affiliated groups are permitted to use the work-around that puts the onus for providing birth control on insurance companies.

Groups that oppose the mandate tend to consider use of the morning-after pill, which is covered under the policy, tantamount to abortion.