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Should Religious-Affiliated Employers Have to Provide Contraception Coverage? TV Smart Talk, Tonight. 8 PM

Written by Nell McCormack Abom, Host Smart Talk TV | Feb 14, 2012 6:22 PM

The controversy over mandatory contraception coverage in the national health-care overhaul law takes the spotlight this week on Smart Talk Bishop Joseph McFadden of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg and Mike Morrill, executive director of Keystone Progress and the former executive director of Pennsylvania's Campaign for Choice, will discuss the implications for families and employers in Central PA tonight at 8 on witf TV.  They'll take your questions live at 1-800-729-7532 or emails at  You can also post a comment to the bottom of this article, or to witf's Facebook page. 

Late last week, President Obama announced a compromise to head off a growing backlash against his administration's decision to require religious-affiliated organizations to pay for insurance plans that offer free birth control and sterilization coverage.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had protested the requirement as an infringement on their First Amendment right to religious freedom.  The president's compromise would allow nonprofit, church-affiliated employers, such as hospitals, universities and charities, technically to opt out of the requirement.  Insurers for these institutions would still have to offer the employees free birth-control benefits.  However, the cost for the coverage would shift to the insurers.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declared total opposition to any compromise on the issue.  They wrote in a statement last week, "The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for the Department of Health and Human Services to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services."  Planned Parenthood is among the pro-choice groups that wants a full-range of preventive-care options, including birth-control, for women and families.

The Obama administration says it wants to ensure that women get the health–care coverage they need.  The dispute centers around a requirement in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that certain "preventive services" be included in all health-insurance plans.  The requirement stipulates no out-of-pocket charges to the insured individual.  The coverage will include services like mammograms, HIV screening, prenatal care, cervical-cancer screenings. It also mandates free contraception, sterilizations and drugs, like "Plan B" and Ella, that the Catholic Church considers abortifacients – and all of which are contrary to Catholic teaching.

To be clear, churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship are not going to be required to cover contraception.  The fight involves nonprofit, religious-affiliated employers.  The Obama administration wants to ensure that their employees – often coming from diverse - and even no - faith groups, would have access to comprehensive, preventive care.    Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a video plea to Catholics to contact their members of Congress to fight the rule.  "Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience," he argued.  "This shouldn't happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights."  

Starting this summer, most women will have access to free birth control through their employers' health-insurance plans.  "The Pill" is the most common drug prescribed to women to prevent pregnancy.  Costs can vary depending on the form of birth control used.  The average cost to insurers ranges from $26 to $41 a year per woman to provide the coverage. 

Some critics of the rule would like to see the conscience exemption available to all employers, but many women's groups say that broad of an exemption would unfairly deny too many women the right to important preventive health services.  Jamie Mondics, health care coordinator for Keystone Progress and the communications director for Know Your Care Pennsylvania, fears "religious interests are bent on undermining sound public health policy in favor of ideological beliefs."  In an op-ed piece that appeared in the Sunday Patriot-News,Mondics notes that " ... since the Supreme Court first protected a woman's access to contraception in 1965, maternal and infant mortality rates have declined.  Without access to contraception, women are more likely to have unplanned pregnancies and are less likely to obtain adequate prenatal care in a timely manner."  She says the Obama administration should not have backed down from its initial rule that was based on "sound health policy."  

There are several bills in Congress that would enshrine the conscience exemption for religious-affiliated institutions and even broaden it to all employers, a move decried by the Obama administration.  

We welcome your thoughts on the debate.  Call in live tonight at 8 to 1-800-729-7532, email us at, post a comment here or to witf's Facebook page.  Join the conversation!



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