Christian health care providers were given the opportunity to express their concerns to Congress on Wednesday regarding a mandate that forces them to provide their insurers with contraception coverage.
The rule was passed last year as part of President Obama’s controversial health care overhaul. It is scheduled to go into effect next August. The overhaul package includes numerous components designed to improve women’s health. However, religious health care providers say that by mandating they provide contraception coverage, Congress is infringing on their religious rights.
“I think some members (of Congress) were generally receptive to our message. However, others were very opposed to it. The opposition believes that government should provide contraceptives and sterilization methods to citizens. This violates our religious beliefs,” William Cox, CEO of Alliance of Catholic Health Care, told The Christian Post.
Cox, David Stevens of the Christian Medical Association, and Jane Belford, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Washington, testified in front of Congress in favor of conscience protection.
The Catholic Church and other Christian organizations are morally opposed to artificial contraception.
In the past, religious organizations have been able to skirt around federal mandates such as these because the rule has always provided for a “religious exception” clause. However, this bill does not do so. The exception clause is so strict that it only pertains to churches and no other religious organizations like universities and hospitals. According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic hospitals account for one of every six admissions in the United States.
"Until now, federal law has never prevented religious employers, like the Archdiocese of Washington, from providing for the needs of their employees with a health plan that is consistent with the church's moral teachings," said Belford.
The Republicans present hammered the Obama administration for passing a rule that infringes on religious freedom.
"Groups who have for centuries cared for the sick and poor will now be forced to violate their religious beliefs if they want to continue to serve their communities," said Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-Pa.), a Protestant who chairs the health subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Some of the Democrats who opposed conscience protection argued that by providing an exception clause for religious insurance providers they would be doing a disservice to the patients.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said, “If you have moral convictions, you can keep them,” he said. “Just don’t try to impose them on everybody else.”
The president of Catholic for Choice, Jon O’Brien also testified, saying that the National Conference of Catholic Bishops “claim to represent all Catholics when, in turn, theirs is the minority view.”
He continued: “Advocating for expansive refusal clauses in health care delivery regulations would affect all patients – whether those patients are Catholic or not.”
“Seeking exemptions for religious organizations to cover essential health benefits, such as full coverage of recommended preventive services including contraception, under the Affordable Care Act will only serve to endanger many women’s access to the healthcare they need – whether those employees share those religious beliefs or not. In reality, these exemptions would deny the right of everyone seeking comprehensive health care.”
According to National Public Radio, Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Tim Murphy, a Catholic, became noticeably irritated at O’Brien’s remarks, stating, "Asking a group in a survey whether they've acted or thought of acting in a certain way that runs counter to the church's teachings is no more a moral code than asking people if they ever drove over the speed limit is a foundation for eliminating all traffic laws."
Cox told The Christian Post that his response to O’Brien’s argument is that patients who do not share the Catholic belief in regards to contraceptive are free to “go someplace else. There’s a lot of providers who make those services available.”