Hearing Zeros in on Obama's Birth Control Mandate

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Representatives of several faiths testified to congressional members that President Barack Obama's birth control mandate could force their organizations to violate their beliefs.

President Obama's new contraception policy took center stage during a congressional hearing on religious liberty Thursday. Republicans invited several clergy to testify during the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee meeting.

Religious leaders argue that Obama's new contraception policy disregards basic rights to religious freedom.

Committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., caleld Thursday's hearing, giving several of those leaders the chance to speak out against the president's policy.

"We are religiously opposed to supporting abortion-causing drugs, that is in part why we maintain our own health plan," Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, current president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, testified.

A congressional panel questioned the religious leaders on their objections to the contraception policy.

"I'm trying to understand exactly what problem the bishop has with the administration's policy," questioned Rep. Ed Towns, D-NY, the former chairman of the committee.

"The principle is the government reaching in and forcing us to do something. We might disagree inside of the church. We might have our problems inside of the church, but it's not for the government to weigh in and be the arbitrator of those things," Catholic Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., answered.

Some members of the panel tried to frame the debate as a question of women's rights to reproductive health care.

"When I look at this panel, I don't see one single woman representing the tens of millions of women across the country who want and need insurance coverage for basic preventive health care services, including family planning," Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY., said.

"This hearing is about religious freedom. As you'll note, the men that you've noted on the panel come from denominations other than Roman Catholic," Issa replied.

"We're here looking at government bounds. In fact, not is it a good idea, not does it save or cost money, but in fact how does it impact religious organizations and people of conscience and faith," he said.

President Obama tried to calm the firestorm by announcing what he called a compromise, shifting the burden of paying for contraceptives to insurance companies.

Religious leaders say that's no compromise at all and it still violates their religious freedom.

"It's wrong because it violates the Constitution. It's wrong because it violates religious liberty. It's wrong because it forces people to violate their consciences," Dr. Craig Mitchell, a Baptist minister and head of the ethics department at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told the committee.

"It's wrong because it's more expensive. This ruling is just plain wrong for America," he said.

The Roman Catholic Church remains united behind the issue. Every Catholic bishop in the U.S. has publicly condemned the contraception policy.

Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York who heads the U.S. Conference of Bishops, saidearlier this week that there would be legislative and court challenges to the administration's mandate.

Originally published on Friday, February 17th. 

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