WASHINGTON — Over 100 lawmakers have sponsored a bill that would provide nationwide exemptions for those who cannot comply with the contraceptive coverage mandate in Obamacare due to religious reasons.
The bill, which is being introduced for the second time, is called the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (H.R. 940), and protects health care providers, religious organizations and business owners alike.
“Religious freedom is a bedrock value of our society but, on President Obama’s watch, this time-honored principle is under assault,” bill co-sponsor Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) told reporters. “From Obamacare’s coercive HHS mandate to the unlawful, pro-abortion directive by the state boards in California, it is clear that Congress must act where the White House will not and reverse this infringement of our First Amendment rights.”
Black was referring to the numerous lawsuits that have been filed in federal court over the past three years over what has been dubbed the “abortion pill mandate” in Obamacare. Religious universities, charities and businesses alike have challenged the requirement and have sought injunctions against its enforcement.
The most prominent battle over the issue was the case of Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, which involved one of the largest craft chains in the nation. Hobby Lobby, owned by David and Barbara Green and family, brought their challenge against the mandate in September of 2012 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.
The Greens, who identify themselves as evangelical Christians, already provided most of the mandated contraceptives under the HHS mandate, but opposed the provision of having to provide the “morning after” and “week after” pills to employees. The mandate of these abortion-inducing drugs resulted in the legal challenge, which made its way to the nation’s highest court.
In June of last year, the court ruled 5-4 that the “HHS contraceptive mandate substantially burdens the exercise of religion.” The Obama administration subsequently changed its rules to require insurance companies to pick up the tab for the contraceptives instead of the businesses owner.
But some still opposed the compromise, and in California, the state Department of Managed Health Care issued a letter requiring insurance companies in the state to cover abortions, forcing all faith-based employers—including churches—to offer abortion coverage regardless of their religious beliefs.
“The rights of conscience and religious freedom preexist the government,” Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) said in a recent press release. “They are rights grounded by the demands of human dignity and are enshrined in our Constitution. It is a true poverty—that in the name of health care—this most cherished American principle is under assault, violating longstanding legislative agreement and precedent. The Health Care Conscience Rights Act restores this principle for all Americans.”
The bill is stated to provide exemptions for those whose faith conflicts with any obligation to provide, pay for, or refer patients to abortion providers.
“While PPACA (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) provides an exemption for some religious groups that object to participation in health insurance generally, and exempts millions of Americans from most of the Act’s provisions, including the preventive services mandate, it fails to provide statutory protection for those seeking to offer and purchase health coverage who have a religious or moral objection only to specific items or services,” the bill states.
Doctors, nurses and other health care professions are also included in the exemptions.
“Conscience rights protections for health care providers are an important part of civil rights protections in federal law and are indispensable to the continued viability of the health care system in the United States,” the Conscience Rights Act continues. “The increasingly significant discrimination suffered by faith-based nonprofit health care providers risks undermining access to high-quality compassionate care for some of the most vulnerable populations in our country.”
118 lawmakers are co-sponsoring the bill, including Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), Randy Forbes (R-Va.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) and Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.).