In Pennsylvania, whether the state will accept Medicaid expansion — and the federal funding that comes with it — has become a hot-button issue. But on Friday, three members of Congress gathered to focus on a different facet of the Affordable Care Act — one they see as the beginning of the end of religious freedom in America. That is the mandate to force employers, including many religiously affiliated organizations, to include contraceptive treatments and procedures in their employees' health insurance plans.
Over 60 cases have been filed in state courts by businesses and faith-based organizations to obtain exemption from the mandate, which will be implemented starting Aug. 1. At the same time, many of those same organizations have begun paying for coverage that includes contraception.
In Philly, activists were evidently looking to circle the wagons on the issue. Hosted by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and organized by Republican Rep. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, the conference drew a crowd of 100.
“The Obama mandate is a coercive violation of religious freedom,” said Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey. “It will have a catastrophic effect,” he added. The procedures covered by the mandate include the morning-after pill, a sore spot for anti-abortion-rights activists. ELLA and Plan B a “very early abortion,” he said. It’s “ending a human life.”
Rep. Diane Black came from Tennessee to discuss her Health Care Conscience Rights Act, which would give an automatic exemption to any employer that objects to contraception. She hopes to block the mandate, which undermines religious freedom and installs a “fear of persecution” from the government.
The speakers were highly protective of their First Amendment rights. But for freedom fighters, they also had a pretty clear idea of what is right and wrong for all of us. Penny Nance, a speaker and president of Concerned Women for America, said her organization does not have a position on the use of contraception. But she worries that religious organizations, like her alma mater Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., which requires students to sign a statement of faith and imposes strict rules on pre-marital sex, would have to pay indirectly for contraception. It infringes on their right not to be “complicit” with their money, she said. “It’s not about what you’re doing with your body, it’s about what I’m paying for."
Though the mandate does not cover abortion procedures, many in the room were of the anti-abortion persuasion. Kathy Sobocinski, a school nurse and vice-president of the Pro-life Union of Greater Philadelphia, says abortion is the real “war on women.” She became involved in the movement — “made a commitment to bring the truth of the damage of abortion”— after facing doubts about her fertility. “I was married for five years and we didn’t think we had children,” she said. So she told God, “if you give us a child I’ll promise to do this work.” She now has three children.
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