A decision by the Obama Administration that forces church affiliated employers to cover birth control in their healthcare plans has outraged religious organizations across the country. The ruling means church affiliated hospitals such as Sioux City’s Mercy Medical Center would be force to pay for insurance that covers contraceptives and sterilization.
Mercy spokesman, Jim Wharton, says the decision makes no sense. “A Baptist hospital, a Catholic hospital, whatever, it would no longer be considered a religious employer, which means we lose the right to exercise what we call our conscious clause. Where if it’s something that’s totally contrary to what our principles and beliefs are we still have to violate our conscience to abide by a government regulation to provide these services,” Wharton says.
Wharton says the organizations that don’t abide by the new mandate risk losing millions of dollars in federal funds. “Every hospital in America for the most part, is dependent on Medicare and now they’re saying if you want the money you have to play by these new rules,” Wharton says.
“The problem is, the rules are unfair….We’re 125 years old, we’re founded on the beliefs of the Catholic faith and for us to be told that you have to do things that are contrary to our faith, we think is a violation of our First Amendment rights.” The new rules would take effect in August of 2013.
Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat, was asked about the issue during his weekly conference call with reporters. Harkin says he thought they had crafted the healthcare law to allow an exemption for individuals.
“I do believe that if you are broadly hiring , that you should provide broad insurance coverage, which would include contraceptive services,” Harkin says. “But if there is someone in the employ for that religious institution who is conscience bound not to do that, then they should be able exempt out of that portion of the health insurance coverage.”
Harkin was asked by a reporter from Carroll, where there is a Catholic hospital, if he supported the “first amendment right of Catholics to not offer birth control to workers.”
“I didn’t say that…I’m saying if they’re going to offer insurance broadly based…then they should offer these services too, but then I want to be protective of an individual, and an individual’s conscience on what he or she may have to do,” Harkin replied.
Harkin says there are many cases in society where people are compelled to pay for things that they don’t like. He cites as an example, the Quaker religion which does not support war, but it’s members pay taxes that support the military. “And the Supreme Court has upheld that in the past, so this is not the only case where religion has run into important public policy. I think the Quakers also have a legitimate gripe from their taxes being paid and going to support military wars and things,” Harkin says.
Audio : Harkin remarks on healthcare issue 4:38.
House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, is already calling on the Obama administration to reconsider the order, calling it a government mandate that violates the constitution.
Woody Gottburg, KSCJ, Sioux City also contributed to this story.