Pelosi: Republicans Want 'to Use the Excuse of Religious Freedom' to Harm 'Women's Health'

Elizabeth Harrington | February 9, 2012 | 6:02pm EST
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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

( – House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on Thursday that Republicans in Congress want "to use the excuse of religious freedom" to take an action that will harm women's health--in rolling back the regulation that will compel all health-care plans to cover sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives including those that cause abortion.

The mandate, as part of Obamacare, was finalized on Jan. 20 and is set to take effect on Aug. 1. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Orthodox Christian bishops, leading Protestant pastors, and more than 158 members of Congress have denounced the regulation and several lawsuits have been filed challenging its constitutionality.

Although Pelosi is a Catholic, she strongly defends the regulation, which would require Catholic individuals to pay for health insurance that covers actions contrary to their faith, e.g., abortion-inducing drugs (“Morning After” pill).

Deabte over the rule, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is a “sad one,” said Pelosi, because “the overwhelming practice is going in favor of women’s health.”

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At a press conference on Capitol Hill today, Pelosi was asked, “Republicans have said they are going to introduce legislation to repeal the decision by HHS, in terms of religious institutions and contraceptives.  Do you support the Administration on this decision and what is your response to Republicans saying the move is actually unconstitutional?”

Pelosi said, “I certainly do support the president’s decision. Just for a little history, as you may know and remember during the Affordable Care Act debate and the decisions that were made there, a waiver was given to Catholic churches not to have to include coverage for contraception for their employees directly, those working for Catholic churches.  “

(AP Image)

“Now there’s a move to, for some, to expand that to universities and hospitals and, indeed, they have even said they want this to apply to all employers -- not just Catholic employers -- to all employers,” said Pelosi.

“This is about women’s health,” she said.

The USCCB also said that the Obama administration, “to justify its widely-criticized mandate for contraception and sterilization coverage in private health plans, has posted a set of false and misleading claims on the White House blog (“Health Reform, Preventive Services, and Religious Institutions,” Feb. 1).

Pelosi said, “There’s one thing, one of the things that is a priority for all, for the women in Congress, many of the Catholic women in Congress, is the health of American women.  This is about the privacy and right of families to determine whether they want to use contraception to determine the size and the timing of their having children, the size and timing of their families.

“And so this is an issue, 98 percent of Catholics, they tell us, use contraception, overwhelming numbers of people in our country support the president’s decision, including, they tell us, at least you all tell us, a majority of Catholics,” said Pelosi.  “So I support it.  If it comes to the floor we’ll use this as a welcome debate to talk about the importance of women’s health.”

This frame grab from video shows a box of Plan B morning after pill. (AP Photo)

“And it’s not just about the women,” Pelosi said.  “It’s about their children and the health of their families as they make serious decisions and use contraception to determine, as I said, the size and timing of their families.  That will be a debate that we welcome.”

“It’s a sad one,” she concluded.  “We shouldn’t have to be to a place where people are saying—when the overwhelming practice is going in favor of women’s health—‘we want to pull that back.’  And use the excuse of religious freedom, which, of course, this is not.”

The USCCB has called upon the Obama administration to rescind the regulation in its entirety. Republicans in the House and Senate are writing legislation to repeal the rule.  In the Senate on Thursday, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) refused to allow debate on an amendment to block the regulation.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). (AP Photo/Las Vegas Sun, Steve Marcus)

“Our founders believed so strongly that the government should neither establish a religion, nor prevent its free exercise that they listed it as the very first item in the Bill of Rights,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in response to the Democrats’ actions. “And Republicans are trying today to reaffirm that basic right. But Democrats won’t allow it. They won’t allow those of us who were sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution to even offer an amendment that says we believe in our First Amendment right to religious freedom. .... I’ve spent a lot of time in my life defending the First Amendment. But I never thought I’d see the day when the elected representatives of the people of this country would be blocked by a majority party in Congress to even express their support for it.”

Last week, when asked by about the regulation, Rep. Pelosi said, “I am going to stick with my fellow Catholics in supporting the administration.”

“I think it was a very courageous decision that they made, and I support it,” she added.

The House Minority Leader’s remarks came during a press conference in support of the Disclose Act, and was joined by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (R-Md.), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.).

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