Congress enters the church-state fray over the Obama policy on
birth control, with House Speaker John Boehner saying Wednesday that
lawmakers will reverse it if the White House doesn't.
Congress this week plunged into fray over new Obama
administration rules that will require religious employers to offer
birth control in their health-insurance programs, even if
contraception runs afoul of their religious doctrines.
The new rules, announced Jan. 20, set off protests from
mainstream Roman Catholic organizations and social conservatives,
and Democrats themselves are feuding over whether the president
should back off. White House officials say they are continuing to
look for a "win-win solution."
But for House Republicans, already embroiled in a bruising public-
relations battle with the White House over jobs and budget deficits,
the issue gave an unexpected new line of attack.
In a rare floor speech, Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday called
the Obama administration's new rules "an unambiguous attack on
religious freedom in our country."
The rules, he added, would require faith-based employers,
including Catholic charities, schools, universities, and hospitals,
to include in their employee health insurance certain services they
deem to be immoral, such as sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs,
"If the president does not reverse the [Health and Human
Services] department's attack on religious freedom, then the
Congress, acting on behalf of the American people and the
Constitution that we're sworn to uphold and defend, must," Mr.
The proposed rules do not require churches to give their direct
employees medical insurance that includes access to contraception,
but it does require church-affiliated hospitals or schools to adhere
to the mandate. Backers of the new mandate describe it as a
protection to women's health, especially poor women who could not
otherwise afford contraception.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee promises to expedite
legislation to reverse the administration's mandate and "restore
longstanding conscience protections."
"I plan to move quickly," said Rep. Fred Upton (R) of Michigan,
who chairs the panel, in a statement on Wednesday. Health and Human
Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is scheduled to testify before
the panel March 1.
Responding to GOP calls to reverse the rule, White House press
secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday, "We want to work with all these
organizations to implement this policy in a way that is as sensitive
to their concerns as possible.
"But let's be clear," he added. "The president is committed to
ensuring that women have access to contraception without paying any
extra costs no matter where they work."
In addition, there will be a transition period until August 2013
to work out issues of implementation.
In anticipation of a controversy over this rule, a panel
subcommittee held a hearing Nov. …