U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, today questioned Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on the Obama Administration’s decision to circumvent constitutionally-guaranteed religious freedom protections by forcing religious institutions to provide preventive health services, including birth control, abortion inducing drugs and emergency contraception, even if it is against their conscience and deeply-held beliefs. The hearing was convened to examine the President’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget proposal.
Despite President Obama and Secretary Sebelius’ announcement last Friday that the Administration intended to revise its policy, Hatch believes the only way to ensure that religious liberty is protected is through a full exemption for all religious institutions.
At today’s Finance Committee hearing, Sebelius could not say whether an analysis had been done to back up the Administration’s claims that the mandate is consistent with constitutional and statutory protections for religious freedom.
Hatch asked Sebelius, “I wrote you last July that your proposed contraceptive mandate would be ‘an affront to the natural rights to life, religious liberty and personal conscience.’ I note for the record that your response to my letter completely ignored this issue. Last October, 27 Senators joined me in writing you again, asking for any analysis requested or obtained by HHS regarding these religious liberty issues. The response from your department completely ignored that request. There were 27 of us who asked for it. The President’s Chief of Staff and Press Secretary have claimed that this mandate is consistent with the First Amendment, and the final rule you issued last Friday states that it is consistent with the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was the bill that I brought to the Congress. Let me just ask you again, did HHS conduct or request any analysis of the constitutional or statutory religious freedom issues?”
Sebelius responded, “Well we certainly had our legal department look at a whole host of legal issues.”
Hatch then asked her, “Did you ask the Justice Department?”
Sebelius responded, “I did not. No sir.”
Sebelius also acknowledged for the first time that she did not consult with the Conference of Bishops, the nation’s leading organization of the Catholic Church, before revising the rule last Friday, but that pro-abortion groups had likely been consulted with.
Hatch has argued that this mandate violates the U.S. constitution and the landmark law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. To view the exchange between Hatch and Secretary Sebelius, click HERE.
Hatch also discussed at length the failure of the President’s budget to deal with the nation’s entitlements – Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security – that are the leading driver of the nation’s near $16 trillion debt.
“I wish I could say that this budget contained smoke and mirrors. But it doesn’t. It is, rather, a transparent abdication of any responsibility to fix the entitlement spending crisis. Medicare remains on a path toward bankruptcy, and with it, senior impoverishment. Under the President’s baseline estimates, Medicare and Medicaid are projected to spend $11.1 trillion over the next 10 years. This level of spending is simply not sustainable. According to the 2011 Medicare Trustees Report, the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund has $8.3 trillion in unfunded liabilities and is expected to be insolvent by 2024.”
Click HERE for Hatch’s full opening statement before the Committee.
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