Democrats defended the Obama administration's requirement that Catholic hospitals cover birth control services as comparable to federal efforts to desegregate Southern hospitals, during a Wednesday congressional hearing.
The hearing on a range of actions by the administration that Republicans criticized as “abuses” partly focused on the requirement that all insurance plans—including self-insured plans frequently used by religious employers—cover various types of birth control. The requirement drew the opposition of Catholic hospitals
on the basis that it will require them to fund services that violate their core religious beliefs.
Democrats said the administration’s requirements for birth control coverage by Catholic hospitals were analogous to former President Lyndon Johnson’s requirement that Southern hospitals desegregate as a condition of qualifying for Medicare funding.
Johnson demonstrated that religious beliefs could be overruled by a “compelling state interest,” said Rep. Robert Scott (D-Va.), even if those hospitals used their religious beliefs to justify the practice.
Opponents of the birth control coverage mandate countered that there was no such similarly serious reason to justify requiring religious hospitals to violate their “sincere religious belief” regarding birth control, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. And even if there were such reasons, the fines for not offering such coverage—estimated to cost thousands of dollars for each employee at each facility annually—violated the legal principle that bars imposition of a “substantial burden.”
“This is a crushing amount for simply asking to practice what they preach,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is suing the administration over the mandate.