House Speaker John A. Boehner said Wednesday his fellow Republicans are already working on legislation to undo President Obama’s new health care rule forcing religiously affiliated institutions to provide insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and other procedures they may morally oppose.
Mr. Obama’s decision has resounded in Washington and on the campaign circuit, where Republicans and Democrats alike have criticized the rule, arguing it violates the rights of conscience of major religions — and in particular the Catholic Church.
“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,” Mr. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said in a rare floor speech.
In the days since its Health and Human Services Department issued the new coverage rules, which it said stemmed from the president’s new health care law, the White House has been besieged by calls from religious leaders to undo the change.
Churches, temples and mosques themselves are exempt from the rules, but the Catholic Church said the requirement would still force their affiliated hospitals, universities and charities to have to pay for coverage for medications and procedures that the church teaches are morally wrong.
Democrats said they don’t see it as a fight over conscience, but rather a push by what Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg called the “male-ogarchy” trying to impose its will on women.
“It’s about the fact that they don’t want women to have access to birth control,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat.
She and her Democratic colleagues in the Senate will resist any bill that would undo the new rules and, with their party in the majority, they have plenty of leverage.
Under the health care law, the administration was able to determine what drugs are considered essential treatments that health insurance must cover without charging a co-pay. After deliberation, the administration concluded that birth control should be part of that.
The Catholic Church teaches that artificial contraception is wrong, and also argues that some types such as the “morning-after pill” can in some cases amount to an early stage abortion. It objects to being forced to have to provide insurance that includes that kind of coverage.
More than a handful of states already have similar laws that do not allow a conscience-clause opt out.
And Catholics themselves tell pollsters they are split on the issue.
The new federal rules gave a one-year grace period to religiously affiliated groups to comply, and White House advisers said they will use that time to try to find an accommodation though they will insist that women receive the coverage somehow.
“I want to be clear today that the commitment to ensuring that women have access to these important health care services remains very strong,” Mr. Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, told reporters on Wednesday.
• Susan Crabtree contributed to this report.