Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Conscience? Not Even Close

Washington, DC— Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-3), Ranking Member on the Labor, Health, and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, submitted the following statement to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s hearing today on the new women’s preventive health guidelines, “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” DeLauro, who is not a member of this committee, was invited to participate in today’s hearing. As entered into the record.

For all our coverage of the 2012 House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Hearing, click here.

For all our coverage of the 2012 Contraceptive Mandate, click here.

Thank you. It is good to be here with you.

First, let me thank Chairman Issa, Ranking Member Cummings, and all the members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for allowing me to join them today, to hear from the witnesses, and to discuss this important issue. And thank you to all the witnesses who have spoken today.

According to the Committee website, the hearing which brings us together this morning is entitled: “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” Quite frankly, such a sham title, coupled with the total lack of witnesses to argue against this proposition, calls into question the very seriousness of this inquiry, and represents a failure of responsibility on the part of the majority and the chair. Nonetheless, I will answer the question posed by the committee. And the answer is: No.

Rather, in releasing national guidelines for preventive health coverage that, like twenty-eight states before them, include contraceptive services, the administration has made a strong and long-overdue stand on behalf of women’s health, while upholding the religious liberty of churches, mosques, synagogues, and related institutions.

Before I get to the issue before the Committee, I want to clearly state: These guidelines will be transformative for women. They will reduce health costs, end long-standing gender discrimination in prescription drug coverage and further enable women to lead healthier lives. And they clearly and irrefutably respect the religious beliefs of all Americans. Arguing otherwise is, quite frankly, disingenuous.

Even in their original incarnation, these guidelines exempted churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship from this rule, as it should. And last Friday, President Obama even provided more flexibility to charities, hospitals, and other religious organizations. And that additional flexibility has been widely praised and endorsed. If any faith-based organization chooses to object to this coverage, a woman’s insurance company – not the objecting institution – is now required to offer her contraceptive coverage at no additional cost. Presuming that women and their families still enjoy fair, equal, and automatic access to preventive health services, this is a good compromise that maintains access while respecting religious liberties.

It is important to keep in mind: Hospitals are not just providers but employers. As a provider, nothing has changed. They do not have to prescribe, dispense, or provide for any contraceptive services. But as an employer, there all kinds of employer regulations on the books that faith-based institutions are bound to respect. Suppose someone decided not to pay minimum wage. Would we accept that? No. Now, as an employer you must provide the opportunity for an insurance policy that covers these recommended preventive services.

Since this important fact has often been lost in this debate, I repeat: There is no mandate here that individuals use contraception, or that anyone dispense contraception in these guidelines. Drugs intended to induce abortion are not covered by these guidelines. And there are no changes to existing conscience protections. At the same time, the nearly 800,000 employees and dependents of employees at Catholic hospitals can still benefit from access to these services if they desire them.

The fact of the matter is, for the overwhelming majority of Americans, this issue is just not controversial. Contraception is one of the most common health-care services used by women in the United States. Ninety-nine percent of sexually active women, including ninety-eight percent of Catholic women, have used contraception at some point in their lives. And a majority of voters — and an even higher majority of Catholic female voters — support health-plan coverage of contraception with no additional cost.

Opponents of this decision often argue that contraception is not a women’s health issue. But, in fact, improved access to birth control is directly linked to declines in maternal and infant mortality and helps to reduce unintended pregnancies. That is why the original decision to include contraception among covered services was not made by the administration, but rather by the Institute of Medicine, which conducted an impartial and comprehensive review of the scientific data to determine which preventive services particular to the health needs of women should be included in the preventive service package.

Among the other services the IOM concluded were important were well-woman visits; DNA testing for human papillomavirus for women over 30; breastfeeding support and supplies; screening and counseling for gestational diabetes; domestic violence counseling and screening, and counseling and testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. These are all services that, according to a report by the Commonwealth Fund, more than half of women have delayed or avoided due to cost. But beginning in August, all of these will now be provided without co-pays. By reducing the barriers to these services, we can encourage more women to take advantage of these services that will improve their health. This is a great development for women’s health.

In sum, this rule will increase access to important preventive services, cut health-care costs, reduce unintended pregnancies, and end long-standing gender discrimination in prescription drug coverage, while ensuring that the liberty of core religious organizations is respected.

To close on a personal note, I want to make this abundantly clear. I support these guidelines not in spite of being Catholic, but because I am Catholic. I have always believed that we have a moral obligation to ease suffering and deprivation where it exists, to help the sick get well and to see that the poor are fed. That is what the dictates of my conscience and my faith demand. It is why I came to Congress in the first place, and why I have always strived to see our government live up to its moral obligations to the people.

These guidelines are an important step in the right direction. They will improve health and alleviate suffering – and, in the end, that is what we are all trying to accomplish. Thank you.

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