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Birth Control Hearing Witness: Can They Make Us Eat Pork?

Witnesses testify at a House hearing on new federal contraception benefits rules. (Courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)
Witnesses testify at a House hearing on new federal contraception benefits rules. (Courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Members of the clergy went to Capitol Hill today to accuse the Obama administration of stepping on their turf.

The religious leaders appeared at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the the federal birth control benefits mandate recently adopted by HHS.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) requires non-grandfathered individual health insurance policies and insured group health plans to offer a standard package of preventive care benefits to all enrollees. Carriers must make the preventive care services available without requiring patients to pay any deductibles, co-payments or other cost-sharing amounts when getting those services.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius exempted houses of worship and other religious entities that mainly employ adherents of one religion from the requirement, but she said she would make other types of employers affiliated with religious organizations, such as colleges and hospitals, subject to the requirements after one year.

Last week, Sebelius changed the requirement to make group health insurers, not the employers, responsible for providing contraceptive benefits for employees of employers that object to the idea

of providing the benefits on religious grounds.

See: Obama Shifts on Contraceptives

The HHS Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), one of the organizations responsible for helping HHS develop the preventive care package, recommended the mandate, arguing that it could help improve the quality of health care and reduce state, federal and local health care spending by preventing unwanted pregnancies.

Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, a faculty members at Yeshivah University, argued that the new compromise is not a real compromise.

"The religious organizations would still be obligated to provide employees with an insurance policy that facilitates acts violating the organization’s religious tenets," Soloveichik said.

In addition, the divide that the administration made between single-religion employers and religious employers that employ or help others of a different religion "implicitly assumes that those who employ or help others of a different religion are no longer acting in a religious capacity, and as such are not entitled to the protection of the First Amendment," Soloveichik said.

For Orthodox Jews, religion governs all aspects of life, not simply what goes on in a synagogue, Soloveichik said.

Some critics of the PPACA individual health insurance ownership mandate have required that mandate to a federal law requiring taxpayers to buy broccoli.

At the birth control benefits mandate hearing, William Lori, the bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., likened the birth control benefits mandate to a law requiring Jews and others who oppose eating pork to eat pork.

Lori asked lawmakers to imagine a law requiring any business that serves to eat pork.

"Although people may reasonably debate whether pork is good for you, that’s not the question posed by the nationwide pork mandate," Lori said. "Instead, the mandate generates the question whether people who believe—even if they believe in error—that pork is not good for you, should be forced by government to serve pork within their very own institutions. In a nation committed to religious liberty and diversity, the answer, of course, is no."

Even if some, or most, Jews do eat pork, but that would be irrelevant, Lori said.

"The fact remains that some Jews do not—and they do not out of their most deeply held religious convictions," Lori said. "Does the fact that large majorities in society—even large majorities within the protesting religious community—reject a particular religious belief make it permissible for the government to weigh in on one side of that dispute?"

Lori said the answer must be no.

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Nichole Morford
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