Senate gears up for fight over Obama contraception rules

The Senate is gearing up for a fight over the Obama administration’s controversial decision to require that insurance coverage provided by faith-based employers include free contraceptives and abortifacients.

“This is a huge mistake that I hope the administration is currently reconsidering.  And if they don’t, Congress will act,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday.

Several women on the Democratic side of the aisle responded Tuesday night to McConnell’s statements on the Senate floor and said they are ready for a fight to protect the expanded coverage that is part of ObamaCare.

“It’s going to be a battle here on the floor of the Senate,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.). “I’m not afraid of the fight. I welcome it.”

Beginning Aug. 1, hospitals and universities with religious affiliations must comply with the new requirement to provide insurance that pays for contraceptives, the Obama administration announced in late January. Churches and synagogues are exempt from the new rules.

“I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in making the announcement. “This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty.”

Some Congressional Republicans disagree with the birth control mandate and say it tramples religious liberties.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) sent a letter to President Barack Obama Wednesday asking him to withdraw the decision and rewrite the rule to include protections of conscience for religious organizations to opt out.

Cornyn called the decision a “direct affront to our Constitution” and said delaying implementation of the mandate for one year does not address the infringement of those rights.

“It merely delays the violation of those rights,” Cornyn said. “Individuals should not have to ‘adapt’ their beliefs to meet a government mandate.”

Sen. Marco Rubio has authored the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to give a religious exemption to the insurance requirement and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) is sponsoring the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act that allows organizations to decline coverage for services that are contrary to their religious beliefs.

“If the administration does not take care of this administratively, I believe it will be taken care of legislatively,” Blunt said.

The new requirements are opposed by the Catholic Church, which McConnell said operates the largest network of private schools in the country. Additionally, Catholic Charities is the major provider of social services to the poor, and one out of six patients in the U.S. is treated at a Catholic hospital.

“The Obama administration has crossed a dangerous line,” McConnell said.

“Make no mistake, the Obama administration’s decision to force religious hospitals, charities, and schools to comply with a mandate that violates their religious views is abhorrent to the foundational principles of our nation. No one in the United States of America should ever be compelled by their government to choose between violating their religious beliefs or be penalized for refusing. Yet that’s precisely what this mandate would do,” McConnell said.

“This ruling should send a chill up the spine of people of all religious faiths, and even those with none at all, because if the state is allowed to violate the religious rights of one religion, then surely it can violate those of others,” McConnell said.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) said Republicans are waging “an aggressive and misleading campaign” to deny the free benefit and that the president should be applauded for “putting women’s health above politics.”

“The millions of women who work in a Catholic hospital or university – from the overnight nurse to the classroom aid or cafeteria worker – who choose to use birth control should have the same access as their counterpart at another institution. That is their decision. Not their employers,” Shaheen said.

“These are important historic advances for women’s health and should not fall victim to ideological politics,” Shaheen said.

Boxer said the Obama administration’s decision had “nothing to do with politics,” but accused Republicans opposing the rule of unleashing “right-wing politics” with women’s health.

“This outcry is astonishing to me,” Boxer said. A political outcry is making this a political issue, when this is a medical issue.”

“My Republican friends want to turn back the clock on birth control. Some of us remember the days when birth control was illegal. Well I have news for them: this is the 21st Century. We are not going quietly in the night on this one. We will fight back for women and their families, and health care, and we will fight to keep politics out of the equation,” Boxer said.