Insurance mandate controversy roils, U.S. Rep. Lankford joins chorus of critics

National controversy continues to roil concerning the Obama administration’s rule to require religiously-affiliated institutions such as hospitals and universities to include coverage of abortafacients, artificial contraception and sterilization in employer-provided health insurance. The debate has drawn some Democrats, including Oklahoma state Rep. Rebecca Hamilton of Oklahoma City into a passionate alliance with pro-life Republicans. 

The Health and Human Services rule has defenders, as well. On Saturday (Feb. 4), a Washington Post reader countered a column from syndicated writer Michael Gerson. Karen S. Smith wrote“the law in question does not force any employee to use such services; it requires only that employer-provided health-care plans not be subject to the approval of the church hierarchy.” 

Smith said Gerson’s criticisms of the administration’s rule “amounted to an assertion that the free exercise of religion necessarily includes the freedom to impose religious beliefs on nonbelievers.”

Agreeing with Hamilton and Roman Catholic critics of the HHS rule this weekend was U.S. Rep. James Lankford. In comments sent to CapitolBeatOK, the Oklahoma City Republican – a Southern Baptist – said he had met with presidents of Oklahoma’s Christian-affiliated universities who “expressed grave concern about their freedom to practice their faith and values without interference from the Federal government.”

The first term U.S. member of the House said shock over the new rule extends to “religious organizations across our nation – church, para-church and educational institutions alike.”

Lankford said he would battle to reverse the HHS rule, contending, “The Bill of Rights explicitly protects the freedom of religion, with no caveats, exceptions or excuses. Forcing private, religious institutions to offer healthcare coverage that explicitly defies their beliefs violates the spirit of the First Amendment to protect the religious freedoms of all Americans.”

On Jan. 20, outcry from across the nation led to a one-year delay in implementation of the rule, but HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius left the mandates for coverage of abortafacients, sterilization and artificial contraception in place.