.- A letter from 154 bipartisan members of Congress is urging the Obama administration to reverse a contraception mandate that religious employers say would require them to violate their consciences.
The Feb. 6 letter to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, condemned the recent mandate as an âunprecedented overreach by the federal government.â
Congressional leaders urged Sebelius to âreconsider the final ruleâ as it applies to employers and individuals who have moral or religious objections to the coverage required by the mandate.
They also asked her for âspecific details on the process followed in the reading and evaluating of the public comments submittedâ about the mandate.
The letter comes amid a storm of criticism over Sebeliusâ recent announcement that virtually all employers will soon be required to purchase health insurance plans that cover contraceptives â including abortion-inducing drugs â and sterilization.
In their letter, the congressmen noted that Sebeliusâ department had received more than 200,000 comments on the rule during its public comment period. Many of these comments objected to the ânarrow scope of the religious exemptionâ included in the mandate.
The religious exemption applies only to those organizations that exist to instill religious values and limit their employment and services to primarily members of their own faith. While most churches are covered by the exemption, huge numbers of religious schools, hospitals and charitable organizations are not.
However, despite the massive wave of criticism, Sebelius refused to broaden the exemption in issuing the final rule on Jan. 20.
In response, Rep. Steve Scalise (R - LA) led a Congressional effort to compose a letter voicing âstrong oppositionâ to the mandate, which he described as âradicalâ and an âattack on the religious freedoms guaranteed to all Americans by the Bill of Rights.â
In their joint letter, congressional leaders observed that the mandate infringes upon the conscience rights not only of those who object to contraception, but also âof those who, for moral or religious reasons, oppose abortion.â
They explained that the regulation requires coverage of certain âdrugs and devices that can function as abortifacients,â such as Plan B and Ella.
They also said that the one-year extension granted to religiously-affiliated organizations that object to the mandate âonly delays the inevitable violation of conscience.â
The members of Congress asked Sebelius to consider the concerns that had been raised.
They requested that she âsuspend the final ruleâ until an arrangement has been made to âensure that both employers and individuals are afforded their constitutionally protected conscience rights.â