Religious Groups Fight Mandate to Provide Contraceptive Care

Religious healthcare providers have spoken to a House committee Wednesday in hopes of reversing new federal rules that require them to provide contraceptive care.

Last year’s health care reform legislation introduced rules that required faith-based health providers to provide birth control to patients. These rules are scheduled to take effect next August.

Many religious leaders believe the mandate puts their organizations in a moral bind.

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“Regardless of one’s beliefs about the specific issues of contraception and abortion, people of faith should not be compelled to act in a manner inconsistent with their moral convictions in order to receive or provide health coverage,” said Jane Belford, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.

“This mandate would impose such a compulsion on any religious institution that wishes to continue to employ and serve people of all faiths, and to provide health coverage to those who work in their institutions,” she added.

Belford and other religious leaders cited the lack of precedence in governing faith-based companies.

"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," Belford told the panel.

David L. Stevens, C.E.O. of the Christian Medical Association, said that patients should retain their right to choose between a varied group of healthcare providers.

“It is especially important today for pro-life patients to retain the freedom to choose physicians whose professional judgments reflect the patient's own life-affirming values,” Stevens said.

Politicians took sides in what was a contentious hearing.

Republicans said healthcare providers were being forced to compromise their beliefs and denigrated healthcare reform as strong-fisted politics.

"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.

Many democrats, as well as civil rights organizations, voiced support for the mandate.

“Providing American women with meaningful access to contraception is not an infringement on religious liberty,” said Sarah Lipton-Lubet, American Civil Liberties Union policy counsel. “Contraception is a basic part of women’s preventive care. Women need access to contraception to prevent unintended pregnancies, plan the size of their families, plan their lives and protect their health.”

Faith-based groups – most of whom are Catholic – want either of two solutions. One is to broaden language in the legislation to render faith-based healthcare providers exempt from the contraceptive stipulation.

The second solution is to pass the “Respect for Rights of Conscious Act” which would make it illegal for the government to mandate organizations perform acts contrary to their moral or religious beliefs.

A final decision on the issue awaits further committee deliberation.

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