Members of a U.S. House subcommittee questioned Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about the mandate requiring Christian employers to pay for contraceptives and possible abortifacient drugs despite their religious and moral objections on Thursday.
Sebelius was in front of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health to discuss her department's fiscal year 2013 proposed budget, but pro-life lawmakers made sure she faced pointed questions about the HHS rule.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., asked whether HHS had even consulted with the Department of Justice about the mandate's constitutionality.
"No, we did not," Sebelius said.
Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Penn., asked Sebelius if groups that refuse to offer contraception in their insurance plans will be fined.
"Sir, we'll get, as you know this is, uh, a situation …" Sebelius answered.
Employers who choose to follow their conscience could be penalized as much as $100 per employee each day — meaning a group the size of Catholic Charities, which provided food, housing and family services for over 10.2 million people in 2010, could be forced to pay as much as $140 million a year in fines. But during the hearing, Sebelius said "no one will be fined for faith."
Committee Chairman Joseph Pitts, R-Penn., made it clear the mandate creates an untenable position for people of faith and moral conviction.
"This is about religious liberty and whether people with deeply held moral and religious beliefs should be put in a situation where they have only two choices: Comply with the law, thus violating their consciences, or not comply with the law and face ruinous fines, forcing them to close their doors," he said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate on Thursday rejected a measure 51-48 to protect religious employers and insurance companies from making that choice.
While HHS exempts some groups from the contraceptive mandate, that exemption specifically applies to churches — not faith-based schools, universities, hospitals or other nonprofits. Sebelius defended the rule by boldly proclaiming the cost of the contraception would be offset by fewer pregnancies.
"So you're saying that by not having babies born, we are going to save money on health care?" Murphy asked.
Thousands of individuals, religious leaders and groups have urged the Obama administration to reconsider its rule, and three House committees have held hearings addressing the issue.
The House has not yet voted on its religious-freedom bill, H.R. 1179.
Contact: Ashley Horne