A federal law related to providing contraceptives violates a key principle of the faith community and they are being required to pay for it, an Edmond lawmaker said.
The issue is a complex convergence of religion and politics, life and death, Congress, biblical teachings, women’s rights, the Catholic church and other faith-based organizations.
During the summer of 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released new insurance market rules under the Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Obama in March 2010, requiring all new private health plans to cover FDA-approved contraceptive methods and counseling.
According to an FDA birth control guide they include male and female condoms, “the morning after pill” and a sterilization implant for women. Other no-cost services will include well-woman visits, sexually transmitted infection counseling, breastfeeding support, supplies and counseling and domestic violence screening and counseling.
In August, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the Affordable Care Act will help prevent health issues before they begin and help ensure women get the preventative health benefits they need.
Under the federal law new health plans must include these services for free in insurance policies with plan years beginning on or after Aug. 1, 2012.
On Jan. 20, 2011, Sebelius said certain religious organizations including churches would be exempt from paying their insurers to cover contraception. Some religious organizations, including those that employ people of different faiths, may qualify for a one-year transition period as they prepare to comply with the new law.
In a Feb. 1 post on whitehouse.gov, White House blogger Cecilia Munoz, director of the Domestic Policy Council, wrote that:
• Churches are exempt from the new rules;
• Individual health care providers will not be forced to prescribe contraception;
• Drugs that cause abortion are not covered by this policy;
• More than half of Americans already live in the 28 states that require insurance companies to cover contraception and that
• Contraception coverage reduces costs; the monthly cost of contraception for women ranges from $30-$50
Lankford said the issue is not a matter of whether contraceptives will be available or will not be available.
“That’s a red herring,” he said. “This is a matter of whether those particular organizations that find it morally offensive for whatever reason in that decision have to provide them for free.”
Religious organizations opposing the rule are saying it is against who they are as a faith community and they are being required to pay for it, Lankford said. The president’s “accommodation” was you don’t have to pay for it, your insurance company will have to pay for it as well, he said.
“Now I have a quick pop quiz: Who pays the premium to your insurance company? That would be you as a company,” Lankford said to members of the Edmond Area Chamber of Commerce at a luncheon meeting Tuesday.
Another issue is many of these faith-based organizations are self-insured, Lankford said.
To say your insurance company will pay that, not you, is absurd to them because they are their own insurance company, Lankford said. They are having a difficult time with that, he said.
On Thursday, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt joined six attorneys general in filing a lawsuit defending religious liberty. The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court in Nebraska.
The suit challenges the constitutionality of the federal government’s requirement that religious employers offer health insurance coverage for sterilization’s services that conflict with their religious beliefs.
Pruitt said the federal rule would be an unprecedented invasion of First Amendment rights to free speech, free exercise of religion and free association.
Several Catholic organizations and individuals joined the lawsuit.
DUELING CONGRESSIONAL HEARINGS
On Feb. 16, the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing titled “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?”
Participants included pastors, members of the Jewish community, faith-based educators and faith-based organizations. Lankford is a member of the Subcommittee on Government Organization, Efficiency and Financial Management.
If organizations do not comply with the federal rule they will be fined and will keep being fined until they comply, Lankford said. The amount depends on how many employs an organization has, he said.
Lankford said an employer testified they would pay $150 million in fines.
Rabbi Meir Soloveichik said the president’s “accommodation” regarding insurance companies is “no accommodation at all.” Religious organizations still would be obligated to provide employees with an insurance policy that facilitates acts violating their religious tenets, he said.
The administration implicitly assumes that those who employ or help others of a different religion are no longer acting in a religious capacity, and as such are not entitled to First Amendment protection, Soloveichik said.
John Garvey, president of the Catholic University of America, said 52 percent of its faculty and staff are Catholic. Garvey said 91 percent of undergraduates and 59 percent of graduate students are Catholic.
The final rule exemption does not cover colleges and universities, religiously affiliated hospitals, health care systems and religious social services organizations like Catholic Charities, Garvey said.
It will force the university to pay for drugs it views as morally wrong, often gravely so, and it forces Catholics to deny in one part of its operation what it affirms in another, Garvey said.
On Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, presided over a mock hearing on women’s heath held by House Democrats.
Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student who was invited but did not speak during the GOP hearing, said without insurance, contraception can cost a student more than $3,000 during law school. She was the only witness scheduled.
Pelosi said Fluke understands that this issue is a matter of women’s health — plain and simple.
Lankford said the national conversation will continue.
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