Religion and Politics Clash Over Birth Control Mandate

Jonathan Athens

OMAHA (KPTM) -- President Obama called it a compromise but religious and conservative groups aren't sure what to make of it.

At issue--a new federal mandate under the healthcare reform law that requires church-affiliated employers to cover the cost for birth control for female employees. President Obama announced Friday afternoon that religious-affiliated hospitals and universities would not be required to cover the cost of birth control for their female employees but the insurers would have to pick up the tab free of charge.

The mandate touched a political firestorm. Catholics say the mandate is an affront to their religious values. Women's health advocates say it's about fairness.

"The core of this debate is about religious liberty. It's about the First Amendment and the importance of taking a stand regarding the role of government," said Rev. Andy Alexander, of Creighton University, a Jesuit College.

Reproductive rights have always been a political football, said University of Nebraska Omaha Professor Barbara Pickering.

The current debate, she went on to say, won't change anyone's mind but "it does raise some interesting items for discussion as far as what it is that women are seeking in terms of healthcare option," Pickering said.

Just before President Obama announced his compromise, Attorneys General from 10 states sent the White House a letter outlining their objections to the mandate.

President Obama's compromise has some wondering who will pick up the tab.

"It depends on the details. We don't know the details. We still have concerns," said Deacon Timothy MacNeil, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Omaha.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland issued this statement: "Religiously affiliated organizations that serve and employ the broad public and receive taxpayer dollars should be required to follow the same rules as all other public businesses, including those for birth control coverage."