White House spokesman Jay Carney on Thursday tried to shut down growing opposition to the president’s decision to force religious groups to pay fines if they decline to comply with a policy regarding health insurance and contraception.
“No, there’s not a debate” about the policy inside the administration, Carney said during Thursday’s White House press conference, where several reporters repeatedly pressured him about the new directive, issued Jan. 20.
“The decision has been made,” said Carney.
President Barack Obama’s decision was based on portions of the 2010 health care reform law, which puts most of the nation’s medical sector under stringent government supervision.
He now requires religious groups, principally the Catholic church, to include no-cost contraception and some abortion-linked services in the medical insurance they provide to their employees outside churches. These non-church employees work at hospitals, universities, schools and other centers established by churches.
His directive does not require the churches to buy insurance services that would pay for surgical abortions.
The far-reaching decision bolsters’ Obama’s feminist supporters, who want the federal government’s moral backing for contraceptive services. However, it also risks further alienating swing-voting Catholics prior to the November election.
Obama won a slight majority of Catholics in 2008, but a Pew poll taken in January shows him leading Romney by only four points, 49 percent 45 percent.
But among non-Hispanic Catholics, Romney leads 53 percent to 40 percent, giving him a boost in the critical swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Carney’s rejection came after House Speaker John Boehner called for the policy to be reconsidered.
“I think this mandate violates our Constitution… I think it violates the rights of these religious organizations, and I would hope the administration would back up and take another look,” Boehner said at a Capitol Hill news conference.
Catholic groups and some other religious groups are rally against the president’s claim that he has the authority to decide which religious employees are religious enough to merit exemption from his policy.
New York’s Catholic archbishop, Timothy Dolan, for example, pushed back hard against Obama’s commandment, saying, “never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience.”
“This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights,” said Dolan.
The First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Carney’s shutdown came a few hours after the president used a speech at the 60th National Prayer Breakfast to argue that his policies on taxes, health care, war and poverty are an extension of his faith.
Obama’s decision also contradicts Obama’s declaration in July 2009 that the pending health care law would not force people to change their insurance policies. “Let me be exactly clear about what health care reform means to you… First of all, if you’ve got health insurance, you like your doctors, you like your plan, you can keep your doctor, you can keep your plan,” he told an audience in New jersey. “Nobody is talking about taking that away from you.”