Proposed bill could prevent enforcement of contraception mandate

By Michelle Bauman

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President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Jan. 25, 2011. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson.

A draft bill released by the U.S. House of Representatives would deny funding from being used to implement the financial penalties for failing to comply with the controversial federal contraception mandate.

Christen Varley, executive director of the non-profit organization Conscience Cause, said that she supports the legislative effort “to block the administration from trampling on the rights of religious institutions to practice their faith while serving the community.”

Varley told EWTN News on July 18 that the fiscal year 2013 draft appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services “addresses part of our concern” by removing the department’s ability “to levy penalties that will threaten the financial survival of countless religious institutions.”

She noted the importance of these religious institutions in providing “education, community service and healthcare to millions of Americans.”

On July 17, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee released its fiscal year 2013 draft funding bill for the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Education.

Among the numerous provisions included in 154-page draft bill is a measure that would prohibit funding from being used to “assess fines or penalties or otherwise enforce any provision” that requires issuers, purchasers or sponsors of health care plans from offering, providing or facilitating coverage that they find religiously or morally objectionable.

The language could provide relief to religious individuals and organizations whose religious freedom is currently being threatened by a federal mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services to require employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and early abortion-inducing drugs.

Those who do not comply will face harsh financial penalties that could put many religious schools, hospitals and charitable institutions out of business.

Opponents of the mandate have sought relief from its requirements through both legislative and judiciary avenues.

The House’s recent draft bill also includes several pro-life provisions, including one that would offer protection for the rights of health care providers who object to performing or participating in abortions. 

In addition, the funding allotted by the legislation is prohibited from going to Planned Parenthood or any of its affiliates or clinics unless they certify that they will not perform or fund abortions, except in the cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers said that the legislation was aimed at investing in “programs that help the American people the most,” while reducing “over-regulation and unnecessary, ineffective spending.”

While the draft bill would have to overcome significant obstacles to be enacted into law, Varley said that it is an important step in the right direction.

However, she added, more needs to be done.

“(W)e remain committed to our mission of securing and protecting the religious freedom of all Americans by amending the mandate to recognize conscience rights or rescind it in its entirety,” she said.

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