WASHINGTON, Feb 2, 2012 (AFP) - Republican US House Speaker John Boehner on
Thursday blasted new US rules requiring most insurance plans to cover
contraception for women over the objections of some religious groups.
"I think this mandate violates our constitution, I think it violates the
rights of these religious organizations and I would hope that the
administration would back up and take another look at this," said Boehner.
But a senior Obama administration official said on condition of anonymity
that the measures had been decided after "very careful consideration of legal
and policy" questions.
US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius rolled out the new
rules in late January, saying that "very careful consideration" had been given
to "the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty."
The move, brought in under Obama's landmark health care reform law, offers
an exemption for churches and other houses of worship.
Other religious groups can qualify for a one-year exemption before they are
covered by the new measures until August 2013 when they will have to comply
with the law.
Sebelius said when she announced the new procedures that they struck "the
appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access
to important preventive services."
The final rule, which followed an interim decision announced in August
2011, was applauded by women's rights advocates but denounced by the US
Conference of Catholic Bishops and political conservatives.
Boehner cited "a lot of opposition" to the announced rules, which he
charged amounted to "requiring religious organizations to violate their
The new procedures have generated heated political debate, with some
commentators questioning whether Obama could face a loss of support among
Catholic voters when he seeks reelection in November.
Some commentators have suggested any loss of support among Catholics could
be balanced by support for the measures among women voters and the young -- a
crucial constituency Obama needs to win reelection.
Among the services to be covered are FDA-approved contraception methods and
contraceptive counseling; breast-feeding support, supplies, and counseling;
and domestic violence screening and counseling.
Also included are annual office check-ups, screening for gestational
diabetes, human papillomavirus (HPV) testing for women 30 and older, sexually
transmitted infection counseling and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
screening and counseling.