Church-affiliated employers should have an exemption to contraceptive mandate

This is an issue of conscience. Some faiths have moral objections to some or all forms of birth control.

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The Obama administration's decision to not exempt church-affiliated employers from its mandate to cover birth control -- including the morning-after pill -- in the health-care insurance they offer their employees is an affront to religious freedom.

Catholics and members of other faiths are particularly concerned because they view the morning-after pill as an abortion drug because it prevents the implantation of a human embryo and thus ends a life. The Catholic Church, in particular, is opposed to contraception of any kind.

The federal Health and Human Services Department adopted the contraception rule for employer health-care insurance after an advisory panel from the Institute of Medicine recommended including birth control in mandated services because it promotes maternal and child health by allowing women to space their pregnancies.

The new regulation does include an exemption for religious organizations if the primary purpose is to spread religious beliefs. The exemption, however, does not cover hospitals, schools and charitable organizations run by religious organizations.

The only mitigation offered to those church-operated organizations is a delay in when they must comply with the rule. Religious-run organizations have an extra year, until July of 2013, to figure out how to comply with the new law. The added time is seen by the Obama administration as some sort of a concession.

But the Obama administration seems to concede this is a moral and religious issue because religious organizations have been exempted. Those heart felt, core beliefs also hold when religions operate hospitals.

In this community, for example, Providence St. Mary Medical Center is a Catholic institution and the Seventh-day Adventist Church operates Walla Walla General Hospital.

Catholics and other faiths see this as a moral issue, a matter of right and wrong. The churches operating hospitals and universities are not going to spend the next year and a half trying to figure out some way to impose situational ethics so they can comply with the law.

No, the sad reality is this moral dilemma will result in some faith-based employers dropping their employees' health-care benefits and accepting -- albeit begrudgingly -- the yearly $2,000 fine per employee for not providing insurance.

This is very unfair to the employees. Health-care insurance is critical for a variety of reasons, including protecting families from economic ruin.

Is is absolutely wrong for the federal government to force religious organizations to go against their core religious and moral beliefs. The mandate treads on religious freedom.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Obama officials should allow church-run organizations such as hospitals, universities and charities to have the same exemptions as religious organizations.

It's the right thing to do.

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