Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services announced new guidelines requiring insurance companies to cover contraceptive services free of charge.

But on Wednesday, a House subcommittee opened a hearing into the new guidelines, with Republicans arguing that that mandate does not offer a broad enough opt-out rule for religious groups and others who have a moral objection to providing such services.

The guidelines require insurance providers to cover women's preventative services — which includes everything from birth control to breast exams — free of charge starting next August as part of the Affordable Care Act. Health and Human Services already exempted some religious groups from the new rules, but critics contend that the regulations still ensnare others who have a moral disagrement with birth control.

In opening remarks, Committee Chairman Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) said that the current opt-out clause is too narrow, and that the government was taking, "coercive actions to force people to abandon their religious principles."

"When the healthcare law was being debated last Congress, the proponents adamantly refuted claims that this would be a federal government takeover of our healthcare system," Pitts said. "Now we have the federal Department of Health and Human Services forcing every single person in this country to pay for services that they may morally oppose."

Rep. Henry Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the committee, shot back that Republicans were just trying to dilute the new rules, according to The Hill.

“If you have moral convictions, you can keep them,” Waxman said. “Just don’t try to impose them on everybody else.”

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) has introduced a bill that would allow providers to opt-out of covering contraceptives due to religious objections. That bill, Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011, is currently before the Health subcommittee.

[Image via Flickr/brains the head, Creative Commons licensed]