Obama, Religious Institutions, and Birth Control

Obama, Religious Institutions, and Birth Control January 22, 2012

From Time.com by Rachel Zoll:

Workplace health plans will have to cover all forms of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration, ranging from the pill to implantable devices to sterilization. Also covered is the morning-after pill, which can prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex and is considered as tantamount to an abortion drug by some religious conservatives.

At issue here is violation of the beliefs of religious organizations that think birth control wrong; entailed as well is that some forms of contraception, now required by law to be provided to employees, violate other moral beliefs.

Many church-affiliated institutions will have to cover free birth control for employees, the Obama administration announced Friday in an election-year move that outraged religious groups, fueling a national debate about the reach of government.

In a concession, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said nonprofit institutions such as church-affiliated hospitals, colleges and social service agencies will have one additional year to comply with the requirement, issued in regulations under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

“I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services,” Sebelius said in a statement.

Yet the concession was unlikely to stop a determined effort by opponents to block or overturn the rule. If they fail, some predicted that religious employers would simply drop coverage for their workers, opting instead to pay fines to the federal government under the health care law.

“Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience,” said New York Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”…

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a powerhouse law firm based in Washington that tackles religious freedom issues, predicted in a statement that religious groups “will never pay for abortion drugs in violation of their religious beliefs.” Many religious conservatives consider the morning-after birth control pill to be an abortion drug.

Liberals and women’s rights groups praised the decision, saying that women who work for religious employers should not have to accept a lower standard of health coverage….

At issue is a provision of the health care law that requires insurance plans to cover preventive care for women free of charge to the employee. Last year, an advisory panel from the respected Institute of Medicine recommended including birth control on the list, partly because it promotes maternal and child health by allowing women to space their pregnancies….

Although many of those employers had not traditionally covered birth control, the new regulation required them to do so. Catholic hospitals, which at a critical moment had defied the bishops to back Obama’s health care law in Congress, immediately sought a broader exemption. On Friday they were denied.

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