Boehner vows birth control policy action

Feb. 8, 2012 at 3:01 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- House Speaker John Boehner pledged the U.S. Congress would repeal a policy requiring employers to provide birth control coverage in their health plans.

"If the president does not reverse the [Health and Human Services] Department's attack on religious freedom, then the Congress, acting on behalf of the American people and the Constitution we are sworn to uphold and defend, must," the Ohio Republican said Wednesday in a floor speech.

Obama decision on the regulation set off a storm of criticism from the Catholic Church, which opposes birth control. While churches themselves are exempt from the policy, church-affiliated hospitals, charities and universities and other organizations would have to provide the coverage.

"In the days ahead, the House will approach this matter fairly and deliberately, through regular order and the appropriate legislative channels," Boehner said.

Boehner said the House Energy and Commerce Committee would have primary jurisdiction on the matter and that the committee would take the lead to find an "effective and appropriate solution," The Hill reported.

During his media briefing Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration would work with religious groups during the transition period to discuss their concerns.

"I think, on this issue, from the very beginning we have said that we will listen and work with individuals who have concerns as we work to implement the law," Carney said.

The policy is effective Aug.1 and religious institutions opposing contraception have been given a year's extension to comply.

Carney noted that 28 states have similar contraception coverage requirements, of which eight don't have the exemption for churches and houses of worship.

"You know, we want to work with all of these organizations to implement this policy in a way that is as sensitive to their concerns as possible," Carney said. "But let's be clear: We are committed -- the president is committed to ensuring that women have access to contraception without paying any extra costs, no matter where they work."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking with reporters after a caucus meeting, accused the administration of "trampling" First Amendment religious freedoms and the "systematic dismantling" of religious liberty.

While expressing the belief the administration will walk away from the issue, the Kentucky Republican said, "[Clearly] this is an issue that has gotten the attention not only of people who would subscribe to various religions in this country ... but those who perhaps maybe aren't even all that religious, simply because they see this as another attempt to grow government, to make it bigger and more expansive and more intrusive in their lives, and that is one of the very things that we warned about when [the new healthcare law] was adopted in the first place."

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