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Boehner, Upton announce legislative plans to fight HHS mandate
By Michelle Bauman
 House Speaker John Boehner and Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (behind) at a press conference on March 10, 2011. Credit Flickr.com/SpeakerBoehner
House Speaker John Boehner and Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (behind) at a press conference on March 10, 2011. Credit Flickr.com/SpeakerBoehner

.- Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) vowed Feb. 8 to use legislative means to fight the Obama administration’s controversial contraception mandate.

In a rare speech on the House floor, Boehner said that the recently announced mandate “constitutes an unambiguous attack on religious freedom in our country.”

He warned that if President Obama does not reverse the mandate, “then the Congress, acting on behalf of the American people and the Constitution we are sworn to uphold and defend, must.”

On Jan. 20, Department of Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced a new mandate that requires virtually all employers to purchase health insurance plans that include contraception, sterilization and drugs that cause early abortions.

Despite massive protests from Catholics and other believers, Sebelius has refused to extend a religious exemption to individuals and organizations that say the mandate forces them to purchase products and services that violate the teachings of their religion.
 
Boehner, who is Catholic, spoke about the mandate on the same day that Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) announced that he plans to advance legislation “to reverse the controversial decision and restore longstanding conscience protections.”

Upton, who serves as the chair of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that he is “deeply disappointed with the recent decision” by the Obama administration, which he called a violation of the First Amendment.

The committee held a hearing last November to examine the potential threat that the proposed health care mandate posed to conscience rights and access to health care.

Upton said that at the time, he had urged the administration “to reconsider this threat to religious freedom.”

Now, he is “preparing to move quickly” on the legislation, according to a Feb. 8 committee statement.

In addition, Sebelius is scheduled to testify on March 1 before members of the committee, who will have the opportunity to question her directly about the mandate.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) recently introduced a bill in the Senate that would overturn the mandate.

In his House floor speech, Boehner praised Upton for working towards an “effective and appropriate solution.”

He said that by holding a hearing when the rule was first proposed last year, Upton “began laying the groundwork for legislative action” against the mandate.

Boehner noted that “Americans of every faith and political persuasion have mobilized” in opposition to the mandate in recent days.

“In imposing this requirement, the federal government has drifted dangerously beyond its constitutional boundaries,” he said. 

He warned that the regulation encroaches on religious liberty “in a manner that affects millions of Americans and harms some of our nation’s most vital institutions.”

“The House will approach this matter fairly and deliberately,” Boehner vowed, adding that the chamber would work “through regular order and the appropriate legislative channels.”

“This attack by the federal government on religious freedom in our country must not stand, and will not stand,” he said.


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