Religious Groups Fighting 'Monk-Funded Mandates' to Pay for Contraception

Democrats are divided over a provision in President Barack Obama’s health care plan that requires free contraceptives through insurance provided by religious groups although they might object to the use on moral grounds.

Democrats for Life of America says it is confident Obama will grant a religious exemption for churches, universities, and hospitals to opt-out of providing insurance that does not require a copay to purchase birth control pills.

“The Administration has no intention of forcing Catholic institutions to provide insurance coverage for services that are directly in opposition to their moral beliefs,” said Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life. “It does not make any sense from a public policy perspective and it certainly is not smart politically to alienate Catholic voters.”

Day says the Obama administration is “under attack by Catholic conservatives who are using the proposed final rule to spread anti-Obama sentiment to lay Catholics.” But the New York Times says the “dispute has erupted between President Obama and Democrats in Congress over a proposal to broaden the exemption.”

That coalition led by Rep. Diana DeGette (D.–Colo.), co-chair of the House Pro-Choice Caucus is urging the president to oppose any effort to exempt anyone, including Catholics, from the law.

DeGette says doing so would deny critical coverage to 800,000 people working at Catholic hospitals; 300,000 employed at religious schools; and 1.7 million students attending 900 religiously affiliated colleges.

“The conscience of an employer or an insurance company should not impede a woman’s access to birth control without cost sharing under any circumstances,” DeGette and 64 House Democrats said in a letter last week to Obama.

“We oppose any efforts to further exempt employers from the following law,” the Democrats said.

“We fully support increasing and protecting women’s access to birth control,” the lawmakers said. “We oppose any efforts to circumvent a woman’s conscience. American women won’t stand for it.”

Catholics are not standing for it either and are vigorously opposing the mandate.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed a lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of Belmont Abbey College earlier this month stating that it forces the college to either violate its deeply held religious beliefs or pay severe fines.

Although the government has already provided thousands of waivers for a variety of special interest groups including McDonald’s and teachers’ for reasons of commercial convenience, it refused to accommodate religious organizations, opponents said.

“A monk at Belmont Abbey may preach on Sunday that pre-marital sex, contraception, and abortions are immoral, but on Monday, the government would force the same monk to pay for students to receive the very drugs and procedures he denounces,” said Hannah Smith, senior legal counsel at the Becket Fund. “This is much worse than an un-funded mandate; it is a monk-funded mandate.”

As part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) recommended that it include the full range of FDA-approved contraceptive methods without requiring a copay that is mandatory for most medical services. That includes sterilization, as well as the emergency contraceptive drugs Plan B and Ella.

“Family planning services are an essential preventive service for women and critical to appropriately spacing and ensuring intended pregnancies, which results in improved maternal health and better birth outcomes,” the HHS says.

The only religious exemption in the law affects religious employers who hire or serve individuals of the same faith, and is so narrowly defined that it prompted the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to note that even Jesus’ ministry would not qualify as He fed, healed, and taught non-Christians.

“The exemption is directly at odds with the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which Jesus teaches concern and assistance for those in need, regardless of faith differences,” the bishops said in a letter to the Obama administration.

Notre Dame President, Father Jenkins has expressed concerns that the mandate “would compel Notre Dame to either pay for contraception and sterilization in violation of the church’s moral teaching, or to discontinue our employee and student health care plans in violation of the church’s social teaching.”

According to America, the national Catholic weekly magazine, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, the president of the Bishops Conference, met with Obama on Nov. 8 and left the Oval Office “a bit more at peace about this issue than when I entered.”

“I would say there were areas of agreement and disagreement,” Archbishop Dolan said. “I found the president of the United States to be very open to the sensitivities of the Catholic community” regarding its concerns over religious liberty as well as the health insurance requirements.

Obama was expected to make a decision sometime after his trip to Hawaii and Asia, which concluded on Monday.