Rubio introduces bill to combat Obama health care plan on contraception

Since the Department of Health and Human Services announced that there would be no exemption from the rule that health insurance plans cover contraception services, institutions with ties to the Catholic church have announced their opposition to that rule.

They argue that it amounts to forcing members of the church, which has long opposed birth control, to offer it or pay for it in health plans. The coverage of contraceptive services could include abortion-inducing drugs, the church says.

On the campaign stump, Newt Gingrich has criticized the ruling as well.

But not all religious groups are critical.

Members of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which includes more than 40 denominations and faith groups, recently sent a letter to President Obama thanking him for his administration's decision on contraception, writing to indicate that not everybody in the religious community disapproves of the rule.

The Rev. Matthew Westfox, the organization's director of interfaith outreach, told the Huffington Post, "We think it's really important to know that many people of faith are supportive of this and have been supportive of access to birth control and individual people being able to access their conscience in support of health care."

Senator Rubio thinks otherwise.

In a press release issued this morning he writes:

“The Obama Administration’s obsession with forcing mandates on the American people has now reached a new low by violating the conscience rights and religious liberties of our people,” said Rubio. “Under this President, we have a government that has grown too big, too costly and now even more overbearing by forcing religious entities to abandon their beliefs. This is a common sense bill that simply says the government can’t force religious organizations to abandon the fundamental tenets of their faith because the government says so

On Sunday the Washington Post's syndicated liberal columnist E.J. Dionne, a big Obama supporter and also a Catholic, chided the president in his column for "botching" the decision.

Speaking as a Catholic, I wish the church would be more open on the contraception question. But speaking as an American liberal who believes that religious pluralism imposes certain obligations on government, I think the church’s leaders had a right to ask for broader relief from a contraception mandate that would require it to act against its own teachings. The administration should have done more to balance the competing liberty interests here.

And it was offered a compromise idea to do just that by Melissa Rogers, the former chair of Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. (Rogers and I have worked together on religion and public life issues over the years, though I played no role in formulating her proposal.)

In The Washington Post’s “On Faith” forum in October, she pointed to a Hawaii law under which “religious employers that decline to cover contraceptives must provide written notification to enrollees disclosing that fact and describing alternate ways for enrollees to access coverage for contraceptive services.” The Hawaii law effectively required insurers to allow uncovered individuals to secure this coverage on their own at modest cost.

Unfortunately, the administration decided it lacked authority to implement a Hawaii-style solution.

Although some parts of the Republican party may be split regarding their standard bearer this fall, the party is united — along with much of the U.S. Catholic Church establishment — in denouncing a provision of the federal health care reform law that requires employer-sponsored health insurance to include contraceptive coverage at no additional charge.

As both local dailies reported on Tuesday, Bishop Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg has issued a letter objecting to that provision that will be read aloud or placed in bulletins this Sunday at Catholic Masses throughout the Tampa Bay area.

And now Marco Rubio is getting into the act. The freshman U.S. Senator from Florida announced today that he has introduced the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2012, a bill he says would repeal that mandate.

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