House Republicans introduced a measure Tuesday to provide conscience protections from the Obama administration’s health insurance contraceptive mandate, a legislative fix that lawmakers attempted a year ago without success.
The proposed legislation would provide specific conscience protections to individuals, so employers would not be forced to pay for insurance policies that cover drugs or services they object to, like the morning-after pill. The mandate as it stands requires all employers, unless they are churches, to cover contraceptives including Plan B and Ella, which can induce abortions.
The proposed legislation (download a PDF) from Republican Reps. Diane Black of Tennessee, Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, and John Fleming of Louisiana says the healthcare law cannot “require an individual to purchase individual health insurance coverage that includes coverage of an abortion or other item or service to which such individual has a moral or religious objection.” The bill says its provisions reinforce conscience protections that already exist in laws like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“The bill simply restores the basic rights in healthcare that were widely accepted before the implementation of the new healthcare law,” said Fortenberry.
The lawmakers announced the legislation with plaintiffs in lawsuits against the administration’s policy at their sides. Fifty lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors, all Republican except one Democrat, Rep. Daniel Lipinski of Illinois, who co-chaired the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus last Congress. Lipinski was one of the few Democrats to vote against the 2010 healthcare law.
Last March, the Senate narrowly tabled the Blunt-Rubio amendment, which provided similar conscience protections from the contraceptive mandate (see “Tabled,” March 1, 2012). Since then, Democrats have gained more of a margin in the Senate, forming a likely insurmountable barrier. But the Republican House has also steered clear of the issue, focusing its fights instead on budget cuts. In the House last year Fortenberry issued a parallel bill to the Blunt-Rubio amendment, but it did not go anywhere. A new Congress has begun since then, so Fortenberry had to reintroduce the measure. But budget fights are again dominating Congress.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., co-sponsor of the Senate amendment, said last year that even without a legislative fix, he believed the Supreme Court would resolve the issue based on its unanimous ruling in Hosanna-Tabor v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,which said the government had no jurisdiction over a church schoolin its employment decisions. Lawsuits against the mandate are now progressing through the courts, so it’s possible the high court could consider a case in its next term. In the meantime, for religious nonprofit organizations and religious business owners, a congressional fix seems like a dim option.