Opening Statement of the Hon. Joseph R. Pitts
Energy and Commerce Sub-Committee on Health
Do New Health Care Mandates Threaten Conscience Rights and Access to
2 November, 2011
Groups who have for centuries cared for the sick and
poor will now be forced to violate their religious beliefs if they want to
continue to serve their communities. Whether one supports or opposes the
health care law, we should universally support the notion that the federal
government should be prohibited from taking coercive actions to force people
to abandon their religious principles.
On August 3, 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services issued an
interim final rule that would require nearly all private health plans to
cover contraception and sterilization as part of their preventive services
While the rule does include a religious exemption, many entities feel
that it is inadequate and violates their conscience rights by forcing them
to provide coverage for services for which they have a moral or ethical
The religious employer exemption allowed under the preventive services
rule -- at the discretion of the HRSA -- is very narrow.
And the definition offers no conscience protection to individuals,
schools, hospitals, or charities that hire or serve people of all faiths in
their communities. It is ironic that the proponents of the health care law
talked about the need to expand access to services but the administration
issues rules that could force providers to stop seeing patients because to
do so could violate the core tenants of their religion.
I am also concerned about the process HHS used to issue the rule.
This interim final rule was promulgated before the proposed rulemaking
and the formal comment period were conducted by HHS.
In issuing the rule, HHS acknowledged that it bypassed the normal
rulemaking procedures in order to expedite the availability of preventive
services to college students beginning the school year in August.
HHS argued that there would be a year's delay in the receipt of the new
benefit if the public comment period delayed the issuance of HRSA guidance
for over a month.
I believe that on such a sensitive issue there should have been a formal
comment period, so that all sides could weigh in on the issue, and HHS could
benefit from a variety of views.
When the health care law was being debated last Congress, the proponents
adamantly refuted claims that this would be a federal government takeover of
our health care system. Now, we have the federal Department of Health and
Human Services forcing every single person in this country to pay for
services that they may morally oppose. Groups who have for centuries cared
for the sick and poor will now be forced to violate their religious beliefs
if they want to continue to serve their communities. Whether one supports or
opposes the health care law, we should universally support the notion that
the federal government should be prohibited from taking coercive actions to
force people to abandon their religious principles.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses and thank them for being