Concerns about the power of government over religious institutions arose Jan. 20 after President Barack Obama approved a new contraceptive care mandate.
The mandate requires religious institutions to provide free contraceptive care in its insurance plans for its employees, which has brought up accusations of a breach in the separation of church and state.
According to a news release from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the mandate was actually started back in August 2011, but the part requiring religious organizations to provide contraceptive care was not added until Jan. 20.
The mandate is an update to part of the Affordable Care Act passed by Obama in March 2010, and is scheduled to go into effect August of this year.
Despite the Obama administration and religious officials working closely together on this topic, religious leaders were outraged at the lack of exemption for “religious conscience” within the mandate.
Although churches and other houses of worship are exempted from the mandate, religiously affiliated hospitals and other health providing businesses are not, which was the main complaint of religious leaders.
These complaints prompted the Obama administration to continue compromise talks with religious organizations, one that would still provide free preventive care services through company insurance while protecting religious liberty.
On Feb. 10, Obama announced that a compromise was reached, which will still provide free preventive care services for women through insurance, but will not require religious institutions to pay for or provide these services directly.
Despite the large amount of attention the mandate received on major media stations and in Republican primary campaigns, a large amount of students are unaware of the new mandate or the controversy surrounding it.
However, once informed of the mandate, students had strong opinions regarding the ethics of the mandate.
Keren Prindoff, 19, has majored in social science during her two semesters at Pierce. She believes the separation of church and state is a fundamental necessity.
“[President Obama] shouldn’t be able to control the policies of religious organizations because it would infringe on the separation of church and state,” Prindoff said.
Michael Ngo, 18, has attended Pierce for two semesters as a biology major and feels the same as Prindoff about the importance of separation between church and state.
“Religion should be able to govern themselves to a certain extent because of the separation of church and state,” Ngo said. “The mandate violates the [organization’s] right to determine what benefits they provide to their workers.”
Despite this principal being “enshrined in our Constitution,” as Obama said in his announcement, the issue of women’s health is just as important to millions of people across the country.
Karen Romero, 55, has attended Pierce three semesters, majoring in psychology. Romero believes that it is more important to protect young women from unnecessary pregnancies that could lead to abortions or complications.
“I was brought up in the Catholic Church, but I feel their rules are too strict sometimes,” Romero said. “So many young girls are getting pregnant that if they approved it we would lave [fewer] abortions and no undue stress on young women.”
Beth Benne, director of the Student Health Center at Pierce College, understands the importance of contraceptive care for women, but feels that government infringing on religious principals is unnecessary.
“I think religious institutions are voluntary and have the right to structure their faiths as they wish,” Benne said. “They way they structure their health plan is part of that religious freedom, and government shouldn’t infringe on that.”
Due to most states already offering some kind of federally funded family planning services, including contraceptive care, Benne doesn’t think the mandate should make religious organizations violate their beliefs about contraception.
“Workers have other options available to them that do not require health insurance to cover contraceptive costs,” Benne said. “There are clinics outside [the normal need of insurance] that provide free health services for people, including contraceptive care.”
Fact Sheet Link: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/02/10/fact-sheet-women-s-preventive-services-and-religious-institutions
Speech Link: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/02/10/remarks-president-preventive-care