Some lawmakers are applauding President Barack Obama's decision to revamp a federal policy that required religious employers to cover contraception in their employee health insurance policies. But not everyone is impressed.
The president said Friday the new birth-control policy protects religious liberties and ensures woman's access to contraception. The changes would exempt religious employers from having to cover contraception on employee health plans under the Affordable Care Act, dubbed "ObamaCare" by detractors. Now, insurance companies will be required to provide free contraception.
The contraception issue reached a fever pitch this week. Religious leaders blasted Obama for violating First Amendment rights with the mandate. Bishop Terry LaValley of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg said the policy "strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens of any faith."
U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, the Democrat who represents New York's 23rd Congressional District, said he supported an exemption for religious institutions.
"I had hoped a compromise could be reached on this issue, and I believe President Obama has found a responsible balance," he said. "This compromise ensures women will have access to essential preventive health care while protecting religious liberty."
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand also applauded Obama's decision, although she questioned why birth control continues to be a big issue.
"I commend the White House for its final rule that adheres to a core principle that the power to decide whether or not each individual woman uses contraception should be with that woman - not with her boss," the Democrat said in a prepared statement. "This debate has been just the latest political overreach by politicians to roll back access to birth control and undermine women's health. It is a fight that continues today in the U.S. Senate with outrageous legislation by Senators Blunt and Rubio that would take away women's rights by allowing any employer to refuse health care services on religious grounds."
Gillibrand said she will oppose any "attempts to undermine the ability of women to make their own decisions."
U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, however, still has "significant concerns" about the contraception requirement, according to spokeswoman Stephanie Valle. The Republican from New York's 20th Congressional District said there's a trend of government mandates in health care, rather than individual decisions.
"Our nation was founded on religious freedom, and we should not erode the rights of private companies and religious institutions to determine what they consider objectionable on moral and religious grounds," Valle said in an email.
Watertown businessman Matt Doheny, who is gunning for the Republican nomination to run against Owens in November, said Friday, "President Obama finally admitted today what I - and millions of my fellow Americans - have known for weeks. He has no authority to make rules that violate the free exercise of religion as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
"Our current congressman, however, remains out of touch with his district," Doheny continued. "My opponent continues to pretend that it's perfectly acceptable for government to use the guise of 'greater good' to mandate what insurance will cover, regardless of whose freedoms are trampled."
Kellie Greene, another Republican challenger to Owens, said her underlying concern over the contraception issue is that it's "another example of the government systematically imposing its will and taking away our right.
"Thank goodness this woke the sleeping giant - the Catholic Church and all religious institutions," Greene said in a phone interview.
Greene, a Christian seminary student who lives in Sackets Harbor, said the issue is similar to the recent debate over the Protect IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act.
"The government is so concerned with fixing one thing - intellectual property in that case - that other rights were put in jeopardy," she said.
Greene also said she took exception to comments Doheny made in a media statement earlier this week. Doheny said, "Owens is a Catholic, but he's put his loyalty to ObamaCare first by defending the ruling."
"That bothers me," Greene said. "There was no need to go there. I don't like when people attack each other's faith."
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.