By Congressman Adrian Smith
The controversial Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring employers to cover the full cost of contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-inducing drugs took effect on August 1, 2012. The requirement, a result of the President’s health care law, has caused strong opposition because it forces some religious organizations to violate their beliefs, infringing on their constitutional right to religious freedom. Furthermore, it limits consumer choice by mandating what services must be covered by insurance plans.
No one should be forced to do something they find objectionable. This idea is the basis for what is known as conscience rights, protected in the in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which reads in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
This issue also highlights the problems of one-size fits all government mandated health care, and the need for greater consumer choice in the health care market. Employers and individuals should have the ability to shape health care plans based on their needs. Allowing consumers, whether an individual purchasing for themselves or an employer choosing to provide a benefit, the ability to pick the plan right for them would prevent Americans from being forced to pay for coverage they do not need, or have an objection to.
To reduce costs and increase consumer choice, Congress must repeal the President’s health care law. While the House has passed legislation to repeal the entire law, our efforts have not been able to pass the Democratic-led Senate.
The Obama administration granted some faith-based employers such as hospitals and schools a one year extension to comply with the regulation, but this is only a short-term solution. The one year exemption also was partly used to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the state of Nebraska and several other states against the mandate, because the plaintiffs no longer were able to demonstrate they faced an “immediate” threat of offering the coverage. I am disappointed in this outcome, but it is important to point out the case was dismissed for technical reasons, not based on the constitutionality of the mandate.
Many hoped this controversy could be resolved if the health care law was repealed by Congress or overturned by the Supreme Court. In light of the Court’s decision to not overturn the law, several legal cases have been brought to challenge the constitutionality of this particular mandate.
I recently joined nearly eighty of my House colleagues from both parties in signing a soon-to-be filed amicus brief in support of forty-three Catholic institutions challenging the contraceptive and abortifacient mandate in court.
I also am pleased to be a cosponsor of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179). This bill would repeal the HHS mandate and has garnered broad, bipartisan support with more than 220 cosponsors in the House.
As the legal and legislative process moves forward, I will continue to work to repeal this onerous and unconstitutional mandate. I will also continue to advocate for more consumer choice in the health care market to provide consumers coverage consistent with their needs and beliefs. America was founded on the idea of religious liberty, and we must preserve this freedom for all Americans.