House Republicans, along with one Democrat, spent roughly one hour attacking the Department of Health and Human Services’ 2012 contraceptive rule on Wednesday night.
The HHS mandate requires employers to provide health insurance plans that cover FDA-approved contraceptive drugs and devices at no cost. Though the federal department proposed an accommodation for faith-based nonprofits, Catholic officials have insisted the law forces Catholic business owners to violate their religious beliefs.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) launched the attack, describing the HHS mandate as “an affront to established law and precedent.” Fortenberry said many Catholics were morally opposed to contraception and believed the so-called morning-after pill induced abortions. Due to these religious beliefs, he said Catholic business owners shouldn’t be required to provide health insurance plans that included such drugs or devices.
He was followed by Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA), who said the mandate was both “madness” and “tyranny.” Pitts added that Americans’ fundamental right of religious freedom was under attack “by the heavy hand of government.”
After Pitts came Rep. John Fleming (R-LA). Fleming remarked that the U.S. health care system should “protect life” rather than have a “top down bureaucratic coercive system.” He labeled the HHS mandate and Obamacare “un-American.”
Next up was Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who accused Obama of “using the coercive power of the state” to force “tens of millions of people” to violate their deeply held religious beliefs. He said Obama demonstrated a “reckless disregard for conscience rights” by forcing Catholics to pay for “abortion drugs like Ella.”
Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) briefly interrupted the HHS mandate bashing by delivering a speech about Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor who has been imprisoned in Iran. Cassidy, however, warned that the First Amendment was being attacked by “forces of secularism.” Fortenberry remarked it was an “outstanding point to make.”
Then came Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), who asserted that peace becomes a sin in the face of religious persecution. He alleged the lives of the infirm, the elderly, the unborn, and the disabled were “cast off” in the Netherlands because the country had abandoned Christianity. Walberg called on Congress to uphold and defend America’s traditional values.
After Walberg concluded, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) rose to join in the condemnation of the HHS mandate. Lipinski said the controversy over the HHS mandate wasn’t just a Catholic or Republican issue. Instead, it was an issue of basic freedom.
Lipinski was followed by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), who said the HHS mandate was “an unprecedented government overreach.” He complained that religious freedom was under attack all across the United States. Meadows said legislators “must stand up and fight.”
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) began his speech by warning he was about to be frank. He described the HHS mandate as a “religion tax” because those who defy the law are fined. It was a “direct” and “shocking” attack on the First Amendment, he said.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) briefly added there was an “overall attack on the Bill of Rights,” citing a number of recent government scandals.
Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), the only woman to speak during the hour of HHS mandate bashing, concluded by claiming the issue wasn’t about birth control.
The congressional outrage was mostly symbolic. House Republicans have proposed the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (PDF), which would provide a wide exemption to the HHS mandate. However, the legislation has little chance of passing — or even being brought up for a vote — in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Watch video, courtesy of C-SPAN, below: