Birth Control Order's Outcry Health Law Provision Blasted as Restricting Religious Freedom
Byline: Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar Associated Press
WASHINGTON The Obama administration scrambled Thursday to contain a growing election-year outcry over its decision that church-affiliated employers must cover birth control regardless of their religious principles.
House Speaker John Boehner, a Catholic, called the requirement unconstitutional while White House spokesman Jay Carney said it is part of a reasoned policy to promote women's health and does not encourage abortion.
Under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law, most employers and insurance plans will have to cover birth control free of charge as preventive care for women. Churches and houses of worship do not have to follow that requirement, but administration officials recently announced that many religious-affiliated institutions such as hospitals, colleges and charities must comply after a year's phase-in period.
The wave of protest that followed has clearly taken the White House by surprise. Catholic and Protestant evangelical leaders criticized the decision as infringing on freedom of religion. Some religious liberals have called it politically risky for Obama in a close election year.
"I think this mandate violates our Constitution," Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said Thursday. "I think it violates the rights of these
religious organizations. And I would hope that the administration would back up and take another look at this."
Rep. Joe Walsh, a McHenry Republican, also voiced his objections, saying: "This is a slap in the face of every U.S. employer and religious institution. The president seems to have forgotten that this country was founded on religious freedom. This decision goes against that and everything this country stands for."
White House spokesman Carney said the decision will stand.
That's unlikely to silence critics. Also joining in disapproval was a group that includes Democratic lawmakers who helped engineer final passage of the health care law. The group, Democrats for Life of America, represents anti-abortion lawmakers who provided the margin of victory in Congress.
"Forcing religious institutions to provide insurance coverage for services that are directly in opposition to their moral beliefs is very clearly wrong," said Kristen Day, its executive director.
The White House defended the decision. Spokesman Carney said the president has no intention of trespassing on religious liberty.
"There was extensive and careful consideration as this policy was developed and a decision was made. And the issue here is we want to be sure women, all women, have access to good health care," he said.
Asked if there's a debate within the administration about reconsidering, Carney responded: "No, there's not a debate. ... The decision has been made, and it was made after careful consideration. …