Obama includes coverage for contraceptives as part of Affordable Care Act

President Barack Obama announced Friday he would include preventive care measures, like the coverage of contraceptives for women, as part of his Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Under Obama’s health care decision, any woman will have access to free preventative care, including contraceptive services despite her workplace’s stance on the subject.

If a woman’s employer is a charity or a hospital with religious objections to providing contraceptive services, the insurance company — not the workplace — will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge without co-pays or hassles, Obama said.

“Religious liberty will be protected, and a law that requires free preventive care will not discriminate against women,” he said. “We live in a pluralistic society where we’re not going to agree on every single issue. … That doesn’t mean that we have to choose between individual liberty and basic fairness for all Americans.”

Obama said he received recommendations from experts at the Institute of Medicine advising him that preventive care services such as birth control should be included in the health care plan.

In addition to family planning methods, contraceptives can be used as a way to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer and other diseases, he said.

About 99 percent of all women have relied on contraception at some point in their lives but more than half of all women between the ages of 18 and 34 have struggled to afford it, Obama said.

“Every woman should be in control of the decisions that affect her own health,” he said. “As we move to implement this rule, however, we’ve been mindful that there’s another principle at stake here — and that’s the principle of religious liberty, an inalienable right that is enshrined in our Constitution.”

Obama said his first job in Chicago was working with Catholic parishes in poor neighborhoods and his pay was funded though a grant from the Catholic Church.

“I saw that local churches often did more good for a community than a government program ever could,” he said. “… I also know that some religious institutions — particularly those affiliated with the Catholic Church — have a religious objection to directly providing insurance that covers contraceptive services for their employees.”

There are 28 states that already enforce coverage, though 20 of those states currently have a type of exemption for religious employers. But in his initial plan, Obama required all churches to provide insurance for contraceptive services.

“I spoke directly to various Catholic officials, and I promised that before finalizing the rule … we would spend the next year working with institutions like Catholic hospitals and Catholic universities to find an equitable solution that protects religious liberty and ensures that every woman has access to the care that she needs,” he said.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said Obama’s policy ensures women would be able to receive the proper health care and allows women to obtain contraceptive coverage if they wish to.

“At the same time it makes clear that a religious institution that objects to contraception will not have to pay for it,” Lautenberg said on Friday in a statement. “The bottom line is that the health and well-being of women in America are not going to be undermined by ideology.”

State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, R-13, said Obama’s action is “a shocking assault” on religious freedom and criticized Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who Kyrillos is running against in November for the U.S. Senate.

“Bob Menendez’s silence is deafening. He loudly supported Obama Care and has remained silent in the face of this attack on religious liberty,” Kyrillos said. “The Obama/Menendez mandate is an affront not just to one particular faith, but to all Americans who seek to practice their faiths free from government intrusion.”

Kyrillos, a Presbyterian, said while many Democrats have voiced opposition to the provision, Menendez has stood by Obama’s side. Menendez is Catholic, as is 41 percent of New Jersey’s population, according to the N.J. Provincial Directory.

“It is sad and unfortunate that, even as many Democrats have spoken out against this provision, Sen. Menendez has stood by Obama’s side while the religious freedom of the people of New Jersey is under siege,” he said.

Menendez strategist Brad Lawrence told nj.com that the senator believes all women’s rights can be respected without infringing on religious rights.

“Menendez believes this debate is fundamentally about equal access to health care for all women,” Lawrence said. “He strongly believes that every woman has the right to be able to access affordable contraceptive services as part of her overall health care services if she chooses.”

Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement that compliance with Obama’s plan is important but does not compromise a woman’s ability to access critical birth control benefits.

“As a trusted health care provider to one in five women, Planned Parenthood’s priority is increasing access to preventive health care. This birth control coverage benefit does just that,” Richards said. “That’s why women have consistently applauded the Obama administration for one of the greatest expansions for women’s health in decades.”

Richards said there are significant threats to women’s health and access to birth control present in the House of Representatives and Senate.

“The Rubio-Manchin bill would allow any business or corporation, on the basis of personal religious belief or moral conviction, to take away birth control coverage from their employees,” she said. “Employers should not be allowed to impose their personal beliefs on employees regarding birth control coverage or basic health care.”

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., sponsored another bill in opposition to the contraceptive portion of the Affordable Care Act that would allow any employer or health plan to refuse coverage to any health care service they object to on religious or moral grounds.

“That’s why Planned Parenthood and women across the country won’t let up for one minute in our fight to protect the birth control benefit and women’s health,” Richards said.

Newark Rev. John Myers addressed his opposition in a Sept. 28 letter, which he still supports.

“Pregnancy is not a disease,” Myers said. “Abortions to end a pregnancy, and drugs and surgeries to prevent pregnancy are not basic health care that the government should require all Americans to purchase or provide coverage for under health insurance plans,” Myers said.

Myers said it is important to remove all forms of early abortion out of respect for the religious freedoms of the Catholic faith.

“No other federal law or order has entertained such a complete disregard for or prohibition to the freedom of any faith group to practice its teachings,” he said. “Allow all organizations and individuals to offer, sponsor and obtain health coverage that does not violate their moral and religious convictions.”

This is the second decision in the past few months to spark some disagreement between religious leaders and legislators in New Jersey on whether government should be a deciding factor in moral and religious decisions.

Gov. Chris Christie made a public statement Feb. 8 that he would veto the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act when it arrives on his desk. The N.J. Senate will debate the bill Monday, and the Assembly will do the same on Thursday.

The New Jersey Catholic Conference issued a statement Jan. 24 advising its Catholic followers around the state to keep marriage as a union between man and woman.

“The fundamental human rights of homosexuals must be defended and we must strive to eliminate any forms of injustice against homosexual persons,” said Patrick Brannigan, the executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference. “Same-sex unions are not the same thing as the union of one man and one woman.”

Steven Goldstein, the president of Garden State Equality, the state’s largest gay-rights group, told The Republic that although the bill may be vetoed, gay marriage will eventually be a reality.

“Civil rights is incremental, civil rights is long range, and you take one achievement at a time,” Goldstein said. “What an achievement this will be.”

Legislators will hear speeches from supporters in the Senate on Monday, according to an nj.com article. If passed in the state Senate, Christie said he would veto the bill on Tuesday. The N.J. Assembly plans to debate the bill on Thursday, according to the article.

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