As President Barack Obama's historic health care reform inches toward its final exam before the Supreme Court next month, a second front led by leaders of the Catholic Church has been growing against the Affordable Care Act.
Unlike the legal challenge by 26 states to the act's "individual mandate" that requires all Americans to purchase health insurance beginning in 2014, the bishops are actually demanding expansion of an accommodation in the act called the "refusal clause" that exempts them from including contraceptives and family planning services in their employee health insurance plans.
In December, Bishop Robert Lynch, leader of nearly a half-million Tampa Bay Catholics, vowed that unless the legislation is changed, his diocese will no longer provide health insurance to its 2,300 employees, and instead would pay employees cash to seek out their own health coverage, which is allowed under the law. The diocese's existing health plans do not cover contraceptives, sterilization or drugs such as Viagra.
Last week, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that would effectively allow any employer with religious objections to avoid covering contraception in its health insurance plan.
"From a practical standpoint, this will force Catholic organizations to make an unacceptable choice: ignore a major tenet of their faith or not provide any insurance to their employees and be punished with a federal fine for violating 'Obamacare's' mandate on employers," Rubio wrote in an op-ed piece in the New York Post last Friday.
White House spokesman Jay Carney defended the refusal clause, noting that 28 states currently require insurers to cover the cost of contraceptives, and that requirements in California, New York and North Carolina are identical to those in the act. Insurance laws in Colorado, Georgia and Wisconsin have no exemptions for religious institutions, Carney added.
Political agendas aside, this second front has rekindled two ongoing cultural debates: the separation of church and state, and a woman's right to manage her own body.
What do you think? Should employers be allowed to opt out of covering contraceptives in their health plans on religious grounds?
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