A Republican congressman asked President Obama's top health official on Thursday to declare whether a specific morning-after pill is an abortion-causing drug.
Rep. Andy Harris, a doctor from Maryland, said religiously devout business owners have a real problem with insuring drugs like "Ella," a form of emergency contraception, and wanted to get an answer out of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius during a budget hearing before a labor subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations.
"I am not a scientist and don't pretend to be one," Mrs. Sebelius said, noting scientists at the Food and Drug Administration designate drugs.
"I think the FDA is not clear on Ella," Mr. Harris said.
Conservative lawmakers have backed corporations like Hobby Lobby that object to a provision in the Affordable Care Act requiring them to insure several forms of contraception for their employees, including drugs that are taken after sex. Opponents of the mandate have equated morning-after pills like Plan B and ella — especially the latter — as abortifacients.
The debate on Thursday caused Mrs. Sebelius and Mr. Harris to talk over each other.
"It's not an abortifacient," Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat, cut in at one point during Mr. Harris' speaking time.
"I was going to get some coffee," Chairman Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, said when things calmed down. "Don't need it anymore."
Mr. Harris grilled Mrs. Sebelius on the issue during a second round of questioning, prompting the secretary to argue that non-religious employers should not be allow to impose their views on their employees.
She said the Obama administration is trying to strike a proper balance by exempting houses of worship from the mandate and allowing religious nonprofits like universities and hospitals ask an insurer or third-party administrator to provide contraception through separate policies, which the employer does not manage or pay for.
By and large, Republican lawmakers and advocates have rejected the accommodation for nonprofits.
"None of these lawsuits were dropped," Mr. Harris told Mrs. Sebelius, holding up a piece of paper during the hearing.
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