Religious organizations, women's rights advocates react - KCTV5

Religious organizations, women's rights advocates react to birth control ruling

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Millions of Americans begin the new year with health insurance options under the Affordable Care Act, but one kind of medicine is off the table for some patients because of a last-minute Supreme Court decision.

The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas fundamentally disagrees with paying for a healthcare plan that includes contraception and if the Affordable Care Act doesn't change, this time next year the church will be paying a penalty fee that could cause it to go bankrupt.

"It's really about a religious liberty issue. The government is trying to tell us how we need to practice our religion," said Rose Hammes, the communications director for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

Religious organizations like the parishes and catholic schools under the diocese got last-minute relief from the ACA's requirement to offer birth control in their healthcare plans.

"Judge Sotomayor's injunction against the HHS (United States Department of Health and Human Services) mandate kind of caught us off guard. We had no idea it would be a last-minute stay of the implementation," Hammes said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor's decision came after a flurry of efforts by Catholic-affiliated groups from around the nation. Those groups had rushed to the federal courts to stop Wednesday's start of portions of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Sotomayor acted on a request from an organization of Catholic nuns in Denver, the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged. Its request for an emergency stay had been denied earlier in the day by a federal appeals court.

"Family planning services, access to birth control are a fundamental public health and preventive service that should be available to all women," said Peter Brownlie, the CEO of Planned Parenthood.

If the high court cannot find a compromise between women's rights and religious freedoms, then organizations like the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas will face hefty fines of $100 a day per employee for failing to provide birth control.

"This diocese cannot afford to be fined. No dioceses can afford to pay the fine HHS would impose on us," Hammes said.

The ACA law requires employers to provide insurance that covers a range of preventive care, free of charge, including contraception. The Catholic Church prohibits the use of contraceptives.

The Obama administration crafted a compromise, or accommodation, that attempted to create a buffer for religiously affiliated hospitals, universities and social service groups that oppose birth control. The law requires insurers or the health plan's outside administrator to pay for birth control coverage and creates a way to reimburse them.

But for that to work, the nuns would have to sign a form authorizing their insurance company to provide contraceptive coverage, which would still violate their beliefs, argued their attorney, Mark Rienzi.

The Supreme Court is expected to make a final ruling on the religious exemption sometime in June.

Women's rights advocates like Planned Parenthood say the next court case they're paying close attention to is the one involving for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby that are protesting contraceptives based on the beliefs of their executives. That could potentially affect millions of more women, they said.

Copyright 2014 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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