On Friday March 16, 2012 the Obama administration announced a new ruling on student health plans that applies the contraception accommodation to religiously affiliated universities. The ruling will allow students to get contraception for free through their insurance providers even if they attend a religious university that may have moral objections. A handful of Democrats did break ranks: Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
Sen. Olympia Snow of Maine, was the only Republican to join Democrats in voting against the amendment. This was Snowe’s first key vote since she announced that she was abandoning her re-election bid due to the overly partisan nature of the Senate.
On Thursday March 1, 2012 the Senate upheld President Obama’s birth control policy. The measure sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., would have allowed employers and insurers to opt out of provisions the Affordable Care Act that they found morally objectionable, including the contraception mandate.
The 51-to-48 vote again illustrated a sharp divide between the parties. However a new poll released Thursday (March 15) by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that most (56%) Americans do not believe that the right of religious liberty is being threatened in America today. A strong 60 percent of Catholics say religiously affiliated colleges should have to comply, compared to 54 percent of Americans in general.
A separate bill sponsored by Rep Chabot, Steve (R-OH) seeking to exempt religious organizations from the mandate has been introduced in the House of Representatives. It has eight co-sponsors, including U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine. Chabot claims the Obama Administration ignored requests for religious exemptions to be made for faith-based groups. The GOP continues to echo his complaint and argue that the mandate is an attack on religious freedom. A recent Public Religion Research Institute survey shows that white evangelical Protestants are the only religious group that opposes requiring any type of employer to provide their employees with no cost contraception coverage.
Blount and Chabot measures came after President Obama made a controversial comprise on Feb 10, 2012; effectively removing faith-based organizations – not just houses of worship – from covering employees’ contraception costs. Democrats feel the reversal of the contraceptive mandate would be an attack on women’s right to make her own decision regarding her reproductive health, as well as the health care law. Sandra Fluke was not allowed to testify; at the all male hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Hearing on Contraceptive Coverage. The testimony she prepared held many of the Democratic talking points on this issue.
“These denials of contraceptive coverage directly affect real people. In the worst cases, women who need this medication for other medical reasons suffer dire consequences. A friend of mine, for example, has polycystic ovarian syndrome and has to take prescription birth control to stop cysts from growing on her ovaries. Her prescription is technically covered by Georgetown insurance because it’s not intended to prevent pregnancy. At many schools, it wouldn’t be, and under Senator Blunt’s amendment, Senator Rubio’s bill, or Representative Fortenberry’s bill, there’s no requirement that an exception be made for such medical needs. “ Says Sandra Fluke
Religious groups across a wide spectrum denounced the mandate, saying it infringed on their religious liberty. Most vocal was the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Though a majority (56 percent) of Americans say religious liberty is not threatened in the U.S., according to a new poll released Thursday (March 15) by the Public Religion Research Institute, which conducted the survey in partnership with Religion News Service. The survey also showed Majorities of Tea Party members (72%) Republicans (60%), and seniors (56%) believe that religious liberty is being threatened. White evangelical Protestants (61%) are the only major religious group that believes religious liberty is threatened in America today.
- Roughly 6-in-10 Americans say that publicly held corporations (62%) and religiously affiliated hospitals (57%) should be required to provide employees with health care plans that cover contraception. A slim majority of Americans believe that religiously affiliated colleges (54%), privately owned small businesses (53%), and religiously affiliated social service agencies (52%) should be required to provide employees with health care plans that cover contraception. Only 42% of Americans say churches and other places of worship should be required to provide this coverage to their employees.
- Catholics overall are generally more supportive than the general public of the contraception coverage requirements. Nearly two-thirds (65%) say that publicly held corporations should be held to this requirement. Roughly 6-in-10 report that religiously affiliated social service agencies, colleges, hospitals, and privately owned small businesses should be required to provide health care plans that cover contraception. Less than half (47%) say churches and other places of worship should be required to provide this coverage.
- Majorities of white evangelicals believe that most types of employers should not be required to provide health care plans that cover contraception, including religiously affiliated colleges (56%), hospitals (55%), and social service agencies (59%), privately owned small businesses (56%), and churches and other places of worship (64%). Half (50%) believe that publicly held corporations should also not be required to provide employees with contraception coverage.