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Religious exemption for birth control mandate ‘too limited,’ says Fla. Catholic conference

Religious groups in Florida are still not pleased with the federal government’s decision requiring health insurers to cover birth control as a preventative service. Their objections come despite a provision that “allows religious institutions that offer insurance to their employees the choice of whether or not to cover contraception services.” #

Yesterday the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced it would uphold the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation to include contraception in a list of preventative services. This means women will be able to receive birth control without having to make the co-payments usually required to get them. #

Reproductive health advocates all over the country have considered this decision to be a huge step forward. MI LOLA, a reproductive justice group based in Miami, told The Florida Independent that “this is a tremendous advance for women’s health.” #

However, some reproductive justice groups have pointed out that there is one drawback to the agency’s announcement. Catholics for Choice told the Independent that the addition of a provision that allows religious employers to be exempt from the mandate is “state-sanctioned discrimination.” #

Jon O’Brien, the president of Catholics for Choice, said that these “expansive refusal clauses” are “used and developed to deny people services.” #

Michael Sheedy, a spokesperson for the Florida Catholic Conference, argues the opposite, saying the exemption is “too limited” and would still require “religious groups in Catholic Hospitals” and “Catholic Charities” to offer services they find religiously objectionable. He says the decision “violates the conscience” of religious groups providing health services. #

“The federal government is putting Catholic health care in a real bind,” Sheedy says. “It’s a big deal.” #

Sheedy tells the Independent that despite this added provision, Catholic hospitals, health care systems and social services will still be required to follow the birth control mandate, because the narrow exemption applies only to religious organizations that both employ and serve members of their “faith tradition.”**

** #

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