Faith-based groups await birth-control insurance rules

Posted: Feb. 8, 2013 10:11 am Updated: Feb. 22, 2013 1:15 pm

Herald-Whig Senior Writer

Catholic bishops on Thursday rejected the Obama administration's "accommodation" for faith-based employers offering health insurance that includes birth control and abortion coverage.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said a proposal made last week by Department of Health and Human Services is a step in the right direction, but does not address concerns about church-affiliated employers.

Some employers in the area are among those waiting to learn what rules will eventually be required under the Affordable Care Act.

At issue are federal rules concerning contraception coverage for all U.S. workers. The Obama administration announced last year that churches would be required to offer insurance covering birth control, including access to morning-after birth control pills.

Those plans were dropped after it became an issue in the presidential campaign and churches were granted an exemption. Other faith-based employers were not granted the same exemption.

Hospitals, schools and other charities were told that if they object to providing birth control, the insurance company will issue a separate policy, just for contraception, free of cost.

Members of Congress from this region say the issue is far from resolved.

"The problem is that these organizations will still be paying indirectly for benefits that go against their religious beliefs. I expect the courts will have to weigh in on whether or not it's constitutional," said U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo.

U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., believes the health care bill exceeds the reach of the federal government.

"Our Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and fundamental to our country's founding was the free practice of religion," Schock said.

"In the time since the Obama Administration first proposed its mandate, HHS has done nothing to address the concerns raised by faith-based organizations. There are now more questions than answers regarding this policy and until complete clarity and an airing of all views can be given, no new rules should be implemented."

Anthony Allen, president of Hannibal-LaGrange University in Hannibal, said the government action "impacts every Christian" in the workplace.

"What is at stake is the preservation of religious liberties and those who value the sanctity of life from the moment of conception. For decades we have found ourselves constantly challenged by society to accept a culture of death," Allen said.

HLGU is affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention.

Amy Baker, director of human resources at Culver-Stockton College, said the school is watching the debate. The Canton, Mo., college is affiliated with the Disciples of Christ denomination.

"We are actively following and educating ourselves on the new rules, but have not made any decisions regarding those new rules here at Culver-Stockton College at this point in time," Baker said.

Officials at Quincy University, affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, declined comment on Thursday's announcement by the bishops.

There have been dozens of court challenges to the Affordable Care Act's birth control mandate, by private employers as well as faith-based institutions.

Schock is among those who believe the religious rights of all employers should be considered.

"Faith-based institutions and private business with religious owners should not be forced to adhere to federal government standards that conflict with their own personal and moral beliefs," Schock said.