WASHINGTON — Republicans vowed Wednesday to reverse President Barack Obama's new policy on birth control, lambasting the rule that religious schools and hospitals must provide contraceptive coverage for their employees as an "unambiguous attack on religious freedom in our country."
The White House pushed back in the face of a political firestorm, arguing that Obama was sensitive to the objections and looking for a way to allay the concerns. Democratic women lawmakers put up a united front in defending the administration.
"Women's health care should not depend on who the boss is," said Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky.
The fight over the administration mandate escalated as House Speaker John Boehner accused the administration of violating First Amendment rights and undermining some of the country's most vital institutions, such as Catholic charities, schools and hospitals. He demanded that Obama rescind the policy or else Congress will.
"This attack by the federal government on religious freedom in our country cannot stand, and will not stand," Boehner, a Catholic and Ohio Republican, said in a floor speech rare for the speaker.
The contentious issue has roiled the presidential race and angered religious groups, especially Catholics, who say the requirement would force them to violate church teachings and long-held beliefs against contraception.
Shortly after Boehner spoke, GOP senators gathered on the other side of the Capitol to hammer the administration and insist that they will push ahead with legislation to undo the requirement.
The issue is not contraception, said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., but "whether the government of the United States should have the power to go in and tell a faith-based organization that they have to pay for something that they teach their members shouldn't be done. It's that simple. And if the answer is yes, then this government can reach all kinds of other absurd results."
Several Senate Democrats said they would challenge any effort to reverse the policy.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., pointed out that for about 15 percent of women, birth control pills are used to treat endometriosis and other conditions.
"It's medicine and women deserve their medicine," she said.