WASHINGTON — The Obama administration mandate that requires employers to cover contraception in their insurance plans is not a women’s health issue, it’s a religious freedom issue, the woman who heads the Center for Human Dignity told a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday in opposing the mandate.

“I speak today as a representative of women who are opposed to this mandate,” Jeanne Monahan said.  “No one speaks for all women in these issues.  This is about religious liberty.”

The mandate requires organizations to provide contraception coverage, but provides exemptions for religious organizations that serve and employ only those who share their beliefs.  Obama later announced that the mandate would require insurance companies rather than employers to provide the coverage.

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., argued that the religious exemption is too narrow.  He said that “not even the ministries of Jesus and Mother Teresa would be covered” because they served non-Christians.

On Feb. 16, three Democrats walked out of a House Oversight Committee hearing on the contraception mandate because the first panel of witnesses included no women.

Tuesday, three female witnesses testified and two opposed the mandate.

“Women…seek the freedom to live in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs,” said Asma Uddin, an attorney at the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom.  “Religious freedom is a right enjoyed by everyone, and it is just as much in women’s interest to protect that right as it is in men’s.”

But UCLA medical school dean Linda Rosenstock supported the mandate and was a member of the panel that recommended it to the Obama administration.

“Positioning preventative care as the foundation of the U.S. health care system is critical to ensuring American’s health and well-being,” Rosenstock said.

“It is unfortunate that in 2012 we are still debating how and when women can have access to contraception,” said Michigan Rep. John Conyers,  the top Democrat on the Republican-controlled committee.  “I believe that the president… [has] crafted a reasonable and balanced approach that respects the rights of conscience and the right of equality under the law.”

But, like Franks, Uddin argued that the religious exemption does not go far enough and excludes hospitals and Christian universities.  Her organization, the Becket Fund, filed a suit on behalf of Colorado Christian University.  The Obama administration filed a motion to dismiss the suit Monday night, which Uddin called “adding insult to injury.”

“The administration is taking the remarkable position that announcing future plans at a press conference means the courts should ignore the law on the books,” said Becket Fund Senior Counsel Hannah Smith in a statement.

Uddin argued that if the government could ignore religious freedom for the sake of health benefits, it could require people to drink wine when it is against the Mormon religion or eat shellfish when it against Judaism.  “Once you open the gates this sort of trampling of religious liberties it’s a slippery slope to a much broader definition,” she said.

The only male witness, Roman Catholic Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., called the mandate “absurd and surreal” in his prepared testimony and compared it to forcing a kosher deli to serve a ham sandwich.

“You can be sincere and sincerely wrong,” Monahan said.  “We don’t question the president’s motives, but we think they are sincerely wrong.”