.- President Barack Obama’s decision to require religious employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception and sterilization is an “unconscionable” violation of religious freedom, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) says.
“President Obama is using the coercive power of the state to force people of faith and people of conscience to violate a fundamental conviction or suffer severe penalty,” Rep. Smith said Feb. 9.
“By coercing all health insurers including faith-based institutions to pay for all means of preventive programs including subsidizing abortifacients like Ella and Plan B, President Obama demonstrates a reckless disregard for conscience rights,” he stated.
“Everyone must comply regardless of moral convictions or religious tenets simply because Obama says so.”
The Department of Health and Human Services mandate will require many Catholic health care providers, educational institutions and charities to provide employees with no-co-pay insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception.
The narrow religious exemption for the mandate is narrow and does not cover many religious institutions.
The Catholic media network EWTN has filed lawsuit against the rule. Network president and CEO Michael Warsaw said the rule forces EWTN to use donations to pay for objectionable coverage and to tell employees how to obtain the drugs or procedures.
Failure to provide the mandated insurance policies means the network could face fines of over $600,000 annually. The HHS department will assess a fine of $2,000 per employee on an annual basis.
Rep. Smith charged that President Obama’s attitude on conscience fits “a dangerous emerging pattern.”
He cited the withdrawal of a federal grant to a U.S. bishops’ conference program that helps victims of human trafficking because the conference would not refer for abortions.
“If Obama’s attack on conscience rights isn’t reversed, faith-based employers will be discriminated against and fined, and employees who today benefit from health insurance plans provided by their faith-based employer will be dumped into government health exchanges,” he said.
The congressman said that Republican House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has made religious freedom protection a “high priority.” Boehner announced on Feb. 8 that fellow congressman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) was preparing legislation to repeal the mandate.
While there have been rumors of a compromise on the mandate, Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport,Conn. told CNA in a Feb. 8 statement that no one from the Obama administration has approached theU.S. bishops’ conference for discussion.
Bishop Lori, chair of the bishops’ committee for religious liberty, said “the only acceptable solution” is for the administration to rescind “completely” the mandate to cover abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception.