Anti-abortion Democrats want religious exemption in birth control decision

By | 11.21.11 | 1:14 pm

President Barack Obama aboard Air Force One (Pic by The White House, via Flickr)

Democrats opposed to abortion are asking the Obama administration to uphold an exemption for religious employers in its recent decision requiring health insurers to cover contraception without co-payments.

Through the Affordable Care Act, women with health insurance would no longer be charged co-payments for their birth control. Women in the past have cited the cost of birth control as one of the major reasons they were not using it.

Reproductive health advocates all over the country considered the federal decision a huge step forward. MI LOLA, a reproductive justice group based in Miami, told The Florida Independent that “this is a tremendous advance for women’s health” when the decision was announced.

Included in the decision was a controversial exemption that allows religious employers to opt out of the requirement.

However, religious groups (mostly Catholic) have claimed that the provision is “too limited.” The U.S. Bishops have even deemed the decision a “violation of the First Amendment” and are asking that the decision be thrown out “in its entirety.”

Democrats for Life, a Democratic anti-abortion group, supports the proposed exemption, but also condemns the Catholic Church’s attack on the Obama administration.

According to a recent press release:

“The Administration is already unfairly under attack by Catholic conservatives who are using the proposed final rule to spread anti-Obama sentiment to lay Catholics,” said Kristen Day, Executive Director of Democrats for Life. ”The Administration has no intention of forcing Catholic institutions to provide insurance coverage for services that are directly in opposition to their moral beliefs. It does not make any sense from a public policy perspective and it certainly is not smart politically to alienate Catholic voters.”

Current law does not mandate private insurance coverage for contraceptives nor does it require free birth control. Under the current law, employers who oppose birth control on moral grounds may choose insurance without such coverage. But such employers certainly do not forbid birth control for their employees; they simply do not pay for it because it is against their religious beliefs.

The PPACA included a provision requiring that insurance plans include free contraception coverage. But, when passed, PPACA also proposed to continue to allow employers an exemption to mandated contraception in offered health insurance plans if the employer objected on moral or religious grounds. This was part of the agreement reached by pro-life Democrats. The issue for pro-life Democrats is that certain types of birth control cause abortions of new embryos.

“I would have never voted for the final version of the bill if I expected the Obama Administration to force Catholic hospitals and Catholic Colleges and Universities to pay for contraception,” said former Pennsylvania Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper. ”We worked hard to prevent abortion funding in health care and to include clear conscience protections for those with moral objections to abortion and contraceptive devices that cause abortion. I trust that the President will honor the commitment he made to those of us who supported final passage.”

The group says the current exemption “is consistent with longstanding public policy and current law.”

Catholics for Choice, a religious pro-reproductive rights group, said in a press release following the announcement of the decision that even the proposed exemption “ignores the consciences of those who decide that to use a modern method of family planning is what is best for them and their families.”

Jon O’Brien, the president of the group, told The Florida Independent that the exemption is “state-sanctioned discrimination”  and is “plain wrong.”

The administration is set to announce its decision on whether it will uphold its current plans in the next few days.

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