Boehner: Rescind Contraception Mandate Entirely So Catholic Individuals—as Well as Institutions—Are Not Forced to Act Against Faith

By Terence P. Jeffrey | February 9, 2012 | 10:57am EST

House Speaker John Boehner (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

( - House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday told through his spokesman that it is his position that the Obama administration’s regulation ordering that all health-care plans must cover sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives, including those that cause abortions, should be rescinded in its entirety so that neither Catholic individuals, nor Catholic business owners, nor Catholic insurers, nor Catholic institutions will be forced by the federal government to act against the teachings of the Catholic faith.

Boehner also specifically indicated he is leaving "on the table" the option of inserting language into future federal spending bills to prohibit the administration from using any money to implement the regulation.

Much of the press coverage on the controversy over the sterilization-contraception-abortifacient mandate has erroneously presented it as a conflict between America’s Catholic bishops and the administration over the question of whether the administration will expand the “religious-employer” exemption in the current version of the regulation so that the exemption will apply to Catholic institutions such as hospitals, universities and charitable organizations.

For example, citing aides to President Barack Obama, a Wednesday New York Times article presented the issue this way.

“As the Republican presidential candidates and conservative leaders sought to frame the rule as showing President Obama's insensitivity to religious beliefs, Mr. Obama's aides promised to explore ways to make it more palatable to religious-affiliated institutions,” the Times reported.

''We certainly don't want to abridge anyone's religious freedoms, so we're going to look for a way to move forward that both provides women with the preventative care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions,'' the Times quoted Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod as telling MSNBC.

But the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and lay Catholic leaders have repeatedly made clear that the regulation violates the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion not only of Catholic institutions but also of individuals, employers and insurers--Catholic or otherwise--who have a religious objection to sterilization, contraception, or abortion.

“Finally, as applied to individuals and organizations with a religious objection to contraceptives, sterilization, and related counseling and education, the HHS mandate violates various protections under the Religion Clauses and Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) and the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”),” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told HHS in comments on the regulation submitted last August.

“The exemption provides no protection at all for individuals or insurers with a moral or religious objection to contraceptives or sterilization, who will experience burdens to conscience under this new mandate,” said the bishops. “Instead, it provides protection only to employers with similar objections, and even then to a very small subset of religious employers.”

“By failing to protect insurers, individuals, most employers, or any other stakeholders with a religious objection to such items and procedures, the HHS exemption, like the mandate itself, violates the First Amendment and the APA,” the bishops said.

“In sum, we urge HHS to rescind the mandate in its entirety,” they said. “Only rescission will eliminate all of the serious moral problems the mandate creates.”

On Wednesday, House Speaker Boehner gave a speech on the House floor saying that Congress “must” act to counter the administration’s regulation and that the matter was going to be taken up by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has oversight over the Health and Human Services Department. In his speech, however, Boehner spoke of the regulation only insofar as it effects “faith-based employers.”

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“This rule would require faith-based employers--including Catholic charities, schools, universities, and hospitals-- to provide services they believe are immoral,” Boehner said. “Those services include sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs and devices, and contraception.”

Following the speech, sent Boehner Spokesman Michael Steel two questions to clarify whether the speaker’s position was that Congress should act to protect only faith-based employers from this regulation, or also individuals, private businessmen, and insurers. Also, asked if the speaker believed that the House should put language in future spending bills prohibiting the administration from using federal money to implement the regulation.

Spokesman Steel said the answer to the first question was “yes.” To the second question, Steel said “all options are on the table.”

Specifically, asked: “Is it your position, Mr. Speaker, that the House should pass legislation before Aug. 1 that in keeping with the position of the U.S. Catholic bishops entirely rescinds the HHS sterilization-contraception-abortifacient regulation so that not only Catholic institutions (such as hospitals, universities and charitable organizations) are protected from being forced by the government to act against the teachings of the Catholic faith, but that Catholic individuals, business owners and insurers are also protected from being forced by the government to act against the teachings of their faith?

Spokesman Steel responded: “Yes, it is the position of the speaker to act to rescind this rule that violates religious freedom before Aug 1.”

Then, asked: “Is it your position, Mr. Speaker, that if the House Republicans fail to persuade the Senate and President Obama to enact legislation this year entirely rescinding the HHS sterilization-contraception-abortifacient regulation, that the House should put language in the appropriate fiscal 2013 funding bills prohibiting the administration from implementing this regulation?”

Steel responded: “All options are on the table whether it be stand alone legislation, amendments or limitation of funds provisions.”

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