Sponsored by Republican Reps. Diane Black (Tenn.), Jeff Fortenberry (Neb.) and John Fleming (La.), the bill would provide a full exemption to any organization or business whose religious beliefs are violated by the mandate, which requires organizations and businesses to carry employee insurance covering abortion-causing drugs and contraceptives. The abortion-causing drugs come under brand names such as Plan B and ella.
The bill, Black said after introducing it, would protect First Amendment rights.
"Non-compliance to the administration's mandate is forcing many Americans to choose between respecting their religious convictions or following the law," Black said. "If they refuse to comply, many will be forced out of business, leaving thousands of Americans without jobs or health care coverage."
At least 218 votes are needed to pass a bill in the 435-member House. But even if it passes there, it faces an uphill climb in the Democrat-controlled Senate and a likely veto by President Obama. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said "we would have some Democratic senators who would support the bill if it got on the floor" of the Senate. He mentioned Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.) as a likely yes vote.
Land supports the bill.
"This is a question of conscience, not contraception. It's a question of religious freedom, not reproductive freedom," Land said during a press conference at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville March 5. "... Freedom of religion leaves citizens of faith free to bring their religious convictions to bear in every arena of life."
The bill -- the Health Care Conscience Rights Act -- also would provide conscience protection to individuals and health care entities that refuse to provide, pay for or refer patients to abortion doctors.
The mandate was announced by the Department of Health and Human Services in August 2011 as part of the new health care law. Although the Supreme Court upheld the health care law last June, the justices' ruling did not deal with the religious liberty issues surrounding the mandate.
A total of 48 lawsuits have been filed against the mandate, and so far, opponents of the mandate are winning. Of the 17 court rulings involving businesses, opponents have won 12 times and lost five. The latest victory by opponents of the mandate came Feb. 28 when a federal court granted a temporary injunction to a Missouri-based plumbing products manufacturer, protecting the business from the mandate. The judge, Ortrie Smith, was nominated by President Clinton. Smith's jurisdiction resides within the Eighth Circuit, where the court of appeals previously had issued an injunction against the mandate.
"Americans should be free to honor God and live according to their consciences whether they are at home, church, or work," said Alliance Defending Freedom-allied attorney Jonathan R. Whitehead, who defended in court the Missouri company, Sioux Chief Manufacturing. "The court was right to stop enforcement of this unconstitutional mandate against Sioux Chief and its owners. They, like all other family-run businesses, have the God-given freedom to live and lead their company according to the values of their faith. American entrepreneurs cannot be forced to surrender their First Amendment freedoms when they go to work."
Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
Copyright (c) 2013 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net
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