Outrage Over the Affordable Care Act: About More Than Birth Control

[Today we have a guest piece by proud First Christian Church member Bobbi Jo Rorhberg.  Educated at Central College in Pella, Iowa: Bobbi Jo is a Christian, Mother, teacher, speech coach, Twitter Phenom, and lover of all things political.  Bobbi Jo blogs for http://lipstickandpolitics.com/  You can follow her on Twitter @BobbiJor ]

Two weeks ago, Chicago Archbishop Cardinal Francis George—former president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops—issued a letter that was to be read at all of Chicago’s Catholic masses on that particular Sunday. Similar letters were read at masses nationwide. In the letter, Cardinal George stated that the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) “seemingly ignored the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our Nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty.”

What sparked this outrage, which has spread across the nation in the ensuing weeks and ignited a firestorm of controversy on both sides of the argument? The Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare, which was originally introduced on the HHS website www.hhs.gov back in August 2011. In the original statement, the HHS announced, “Affordable Care Act Ensures Women Receive Preventive Services at No Additional Cost”. This press release touted “historic new guidelines” that would “ensure women receive preventive health services at no additional cost”. The Act stipulates that health insurance plans cover women’s preventive services such as well-woman visits, breastfeeding support, domestic violence screening, and contraception without charging a co-payment, co-insurance or a deductible. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the intention of the Act was to “stop problems before they start”. According to the HHS website, insurance companies have to comply with the ACA effective August 2012.

However, this regulation was applicable only to churches, not to other religious organizations founded upon and guided by church principles and practices.

 

When they made this announcement, the Obama administration also released an amendment to the prevention regulation, allowing religious institutions that offer insurance to their employees the choice of whether or not to cover contraception services. However, this regulation was applicable only to churches, not to other religious organizations founded upon and guided by church principles and practices.

The Real Problem…

The real problem began on January 20 of this year, when Sebelius announced that religious organizations could delay but not opt out of the requirement that all health plans cover contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs (abortifacients), and sterilization free of charge. The website specifically states that these services must be offered by religious groups effective August 2013, which means they were given an extra year to comply.

Responding to this announcement, Cardinal George stated, “We Catholics must be prepared either to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees—and suffer the penalties for doing so.” Once the Catholic church responded so strongly to the provision, others rushed to support them. Rick Warren, author of A Purpose Driven Life and the pastor who delivered the invocation at Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration, tweeted the following: I’m not a Catholic but I stand in 100% solidarity with my brothers & sisters to practice their belief against govt pressure…I’d go to jail rather than cave in to a government mandate that violates what God commands us to do. Would you? Acts 5:29.

In addition, the National Association of Evangelicals commented that “The HHS rules trample on our most cherished freedoms and set a dangerous precedent” and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America stated, “The Obama Administration has…failed to respect the needs of religious organizations such as hospitals, social welfare organizations and more.” The Agudath Israel of America also stated its opposition, as did the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America.

…employers will still be indirectly paying for the products that they find morally objectionable.

 

You Know You’re In Trouble When The Catholics, Lutherans, Greek Orthodox, Baptists, Evangelicals AND Chris Matthews Agree.

Though some may like to think that only conservative-types oppose the mandate, this is not the case. Tim Kaine, former Democratic National Committee chairman, said the White House should revisit the rule’s exemptions for religious organizations.  In a recent interview, he stated, “I think the White House made a good decision in including a mandate for contraception coverage in the Affordable Care Act…but I think they made a bad decision in not allowing a broad enough religious-employer exemption.”  Even Chris Matthews, the man who once got tingles up his leg listening to President Obama speak, came out against the ACA. Matthews stated, “It gets to that interesting point, to me, which is frightening, when the state starts telling the church what to do and then the church can no longer teach. If the church teaches it’s morally wrong to use birth control how can you make the teacher pay for birth control without losing their authority, their moral authority?”

Responding to the pushback, on February 10 Obama announced a revision to the ACA. Under the supposed accommodation, religious employers will not be forced to directly purchase contraceptive coverage in their employees’ health care plans. Instead, they must buy plans from insurance companies that offer them without cost. However, many individuals, organizations and members of Congress objected vehemently to the new policy, arguing that insurance companies will raise premiums to account for the “free” contraceptives, which means employers will still be indirectly paying for the products that they find morally objectionable. Furthermore, this does nothing to help self-insured parties, like many dioceses and Catholic organizations, as it could still force them to pay for services that go against their core religious convictions. Hundreds of religious leaders immediately released a joint statement, calling it “an insult to the intelligence of Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other people of faith and conscience to imagine that they will accept an assault on their religious liberty if only it is covered up by a cheap accounting trick.”

Finally, though many of the talking heads on radio and television are trying to make this simply a case of clueless, Puritanical religious zealots freaking out about “access” to birth control that is not remotely the case. We all know that women have access to birth control. Walk into a Target, Wal-Mart, Rite-Aid, or Planned Parenthood Clinic and you can get your hands on birth control almost instantly. Hannah Smith, senior counsel at the nonprofit law firm The Becket Fund, declared: “This is not really about access to contraception. The mandate is about forcing these religious groups to pay for it—directly or indirectly—against their beliefs.”  Perhaps Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski summed it up best in his February 10 statement: “The administration continues to insist that the issue is about contraception; we disagree. It is about the first freedom of our Bill of Rights: the freedom of religion and respect for the rights of conscience”.

 

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