Local rally decries contraception mandate

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published October 30, 2012

 Clutching signs, children and parents gather outside Ss. Cyril & Methodius Slovak Catholic Church Oct. 20 for a Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally, which protested a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate regarding insurance coverage of contraceptives and related services.

Clutching signs, children and parents gather outside Ss. Cyril & Methodius Slovak Catholic Church Oct. 20 for a Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally, which protested a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate regarding insurance coverage of contraceptives and related services.

Photo by Andrew Potter

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As similar displays occurred across the state and nation, a crowd gathered outside Ss. Cyril & Methodius Slovak Catholic Church in Sterling Heights Oct. 20 for a local Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally.

The event specifically zoned in on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate under the Affordable Care Act that requires employer health plans to cover contraceptives and related services without co-pay or cost sharing, under the umbrella of women’s preventative health.

In a release announcing the rallies — which occurred in a number of U.S. communities simultaneously, including 10 others in Michigan — organizers called the measure “unjust and unconstitutional government intrusion into religious practice and ministry.”

The mandate’s opponents claim that the mandate “treats pregnancy and childbirth as if it were a disease, and overlooks other health care issues more important to the lives of women.”

They specifically protest the requirement for religious institutions to facilitate certain procedures and drugs because it flies in the face of their beliefs, as well as generally for all businesses, because it fails to consider the employer’s moral position.

“This is not necessarily an issue that (only) affects people of faith,” said Monica Migliorino Miller, director of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society and a national co-director for Stand Up for Religious Freedom. “This goes to what it means for us to be able to practice the First Amendment of the United States, regardless of whether someone has a religious affiliation or not.”

While the Affordable Care Act includes exemptions for certain “religious employers,” opponents of the HHS mandate argue that the exemptions are “narrowly constructed” because church-run ministries like schools, hospitals and charities will not qualify.

Migliorino Miller estimates that 90 percent of religiously affiliated social services programs won’t be exempt because the provision only applies to religious employers that primarily hire and serve people of their own faith. And no one, she argued, is asking for the baptismal certificate of a person seeking assistance at St. Vincent de Paul or a soup kitchen.

Outside Ss. Cyril & Methodius, tables were piled with protest signs bearing slogans like “Vote life and liberty.” Children clustered along Ryan with signs held aloft, garnering sporadic honks from passing motorists, and sang “God Bless America.” Many attendees wore buttons reflecting their beliefs; some carried rosaries.

Columns of red, white and blue balloons flanked a small stage where speakers addressed the issue, including Bishop Ludovick Minde and Bobby Smith, president of Crusaders for Life Detroit.

Despite the outcry over the HHS mandate, “still, Obama isn’t backing down,” said Smith. “Well, guess what — we aren’t either.”

John MacDonald of Warren, who was among dozens of attendees, said he’s dismayed by the direction the nation is heading and believes he’s standing up for love of God and country by opposing the HHS mandate.

“As a Catholic, it denies us of our rights of conscience,” agreed Lisa Yamin of Auburn Hills. “With the HHS mandates, Catholics would be forced to pay for abortions and contraception, which we believe are morally wrong. We shouldn’t be forced to have to take part in this.”

Similar rallies were scheduled in Flint, Livonia, New Baltimore, Saginaw, Dearborn and a handful of other Michigan communities. 

In Ann Arbor, Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing reportedly sent a memo to the rally captain to be read at the event, asking supporters to visit him in jail “when attacks on our religious liberty become too grave.”

Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, New Orleans and Washington, D.C., were among cities nationwide taking part in the rallies.

In a prepared statement earlier this year, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius insisted that the mandate “strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventative services.”

In 2010, the department enlisted the Institute of Medicine to convene a panel of women’s health experts to determine shortfalls in existing preventative care recommendations.

The Institute of Medicine advised the addition of eight services, including annual “well woman” visits, screening for certain pregnancy-related conditions, regular HIV testing, breastfeeding support, domestic violence screening and counseling, and the “full range” of Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive services and supplies, including sterilization.

Under the new regulations, Sebelius stated, women “will not have to forego these services” due to steep co-pays or deductibles or because a plan lacks contraceptive services coverage. She noted that the rule aligns with laws already in place in the majority of states.

“Scientists have abundant evidence that birth control has significant health benefits for women and their families, is documented to significantly reduce health costs, and is the most commonly taken drug in America by young and middle-aged women,” Sebelius stated. “This rule will provide women with greater access to contraception by requiring coverage and by prohibiting cost sharing.”

The mandate went into effect for most health plans this August, but nonprofit employers who do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their plans due to religious beliefs have an additional year — until August 2013 — to comply.

Migliorino Miller said religious institutions have filed more than 100 lawsuits contesting the implementation, which are currently pending.

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