Catholics Unite Against Law's Birth Control Mandate

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WASHINGTON -- President Obama's health care program has once again created political controversy.

The federal government now mandates that religious institutions provide health insurance coverage for birth control. The provision has created a battle between religious freedom and government requirements.

Inside churches across America, the health department's recent interpretation of President Obama's health care law, passed by Congress in 2010, is still reverberating.

The purpose is to give all women insurance coverage for birth control. That means the health care law requires organizations affiliated with religious groups, such as Catholic hospitals, to provide not only birth control pills for their employees, but also the controversial "morning after pill" and sterilization.

"Scientists have abundant evidence that birth control has significant health benefits for women and their families," wrote HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a statement.

Many Catholic doctors disagree.

Matt Smith, president of Catholic Advocate, said instead of helping women, the Obama administration is taking a knife to the Constitution.

"This is a religious liberty issue and it's something that is tearing at the foundation of our country," he told CBN News.

An organization with the main purpose of sharing its religious beliefs, one that mostly employs and serves people of that religion, like a church, is exempt. But other religious institutions, like a Catholic university, must follow the rule.

Catholic hospitals and non-profits, like Catholic Charities, will also be forced to offer health insurance coverage for drugs and services that violate church teachings.

Even if some employees don't use them, their insurance premiums will be used to cover others who do.

"Those institutions where women of all faiths, many faiths, work, need to have the same kind of coverage that all other American women have," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

"Even Jesus and his apostles would not necessarily have qualified under this rule," said John Brehany, director of the Catholic Medical Association.

"This is really a serious assault on the rights of religious freedom of every American because what they're saying is, 'We're going to define who's in a religion and who's not," he added.

The administration's decision disrupts central teachings of the Catholic Church about the dignity of human life and it's uniting Catholics who don't often agree.

Sister Carol Keehan, president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association, supported the president's health care law and even received one of the pens he used to sign the bill. But she now says the mandate has "jolted us."

The mandate has already become an issue in the 2012 presidential race and some lawmakers in Congress have already taken notice.

"It's a decision that basically tells religiously based organizations they must do something. In this case, offer contraception and pay for it to their own employees. That violates a basic tenet of their faith," Sen. Mario Rubio, R-Fla., said.

Rubio is one of at least three members of Congress who've introduced legislation aimed at reversing the rule.

The Catholic Advocate has started a campaign to support legislative action.

They've launched a website, Protect Our Conscience, and are calling on all Americans, not just Catholics, who feel their religious liberties have been trampled to write their senators and representatives.

"That will give them a mandate to pass veto-proof legislation that the president will be forced to sign into law to fix this attack on our religious liberties," Smith said.

The Obama administration is standing by the mandate, giving religious organizations until August 2013 to comply.

There's a good chance the issue will be appealed by religious organizations to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Jennifer Wishon

Jennifer Wishon

CBN News White House Correspondent

Jennifer Wishon is the White House correspondent for CBN News based in the network’s Washington, D.C. Bureau.  Before taking over the White House beat, Jennifer covered Capitol Hill and other national news, from the economy to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferWishon and "like" her at Facebook.com/JennWishon.