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House, Senate GOP Leaders Attack Obama Birth Control Rule

Updated: 2:30 p.m.

Speaker John Boehner today attacked the Obama administration’s efforts to force religious hospitals and universities to provide employees with insurance that covers contraceptives, arguing the controversial rule “constitutes an unambiguous attack on religious freedom in our country.”

In a rare floor speech, the Ohio Republican — who is a practicing Catholic — pulled no punches: “In imposing this requirement, the federal government is violating a First Amendment right that has stood for more than two centuries. And it is doing so in a manner that affects millions of Americans and harms some of our nation’s most vital institutions.”

The rule has enraged Catholic leaders. Contraception, like abortion, is considered a sin in the Catholic faith.

Boehner made clear that the House would move quickly to undo the requirement — announced by the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this month — if the White House does not reverse course.

“If the president does not reverse the department’s attack on religious freedom, then the Congress, acting on behalf of the American people and the Constitution we are sworn to uphold and defend, must,” Boehner said. He noted that Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has already begun work on the issue.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans held a news conference of their own to attack the administration’s policy, hinting that they, too, would pursue legislative options to reverse the rule.

“We’re discussing the appropriate response,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), noting that freshman Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) are leading the Conference’s effort,

All three Senators delivered statements extolling religious freedom while questioning government encroachment. They said the birth control rule is just the latest example of overreach in the Democrats’ health care law.   

“This is not a women’s rights issue. This is a religious liberty issue,” Ayotte said. “And it applies to all faiths. I’ve heard from my constituents who are deeply, deeply concerned about this. We need to respect the rights of conscience for all religions.”

A Senate GOP aide said Senators are in communication with their House counterparts, though it is not yet clear whether they will move in concert with the House on a bill. The aide noted that it is easier for House Republicans to bring legislation to the floor.

“This attack by the federal government on religious freedom in our country cannot stand and will not stand,” Boehner said.

Correction: Feb. 8, 2012

An earlier version of this story misidentified the state that Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) represents.

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