Rallies in Georgia and around U.S. oppose contraception ruling
More than 1,000 Georgians assembled in Atlanta and Athens Friday to protest a federal ruling requiring health care plans — even those at some religious organizations — to cover the cost of contraception.
Though Atlanta’s downtown protest was coordinated by the Archdiocese of Atlanta, “This is not just a Catholic issue,” said Deborah Bigda, who drove from Marietta with her four children to listen to fiery speakers competing with a cool drizzle. “Tomorrow it could be Jews can’t eat kosher. Then Muslims can’t wear their face coverings.”
Georgia’s protests were two of many around the country, all occurring at noon in a coordinated effort to push back against the Health and Human Services ruling. Many protesters also assailed the Affordable Care Act — “Obamacare” to its critics.
Friday’s crowd in Atlanta, festooned with umbrellas and such signs as “Stop Obama from Taking Our Freedom,” spilled over from the plaza in front of the Capitol building into Washington Street. Standing toward the rear of that crowd was Dan Puckett, a missionary with the Assemblies of God denomination. “The Constitution says to keep government out of church and church out of government,” said Puckett, adding that the issue isn’t contraception, but religious freedom.
At the center of the debate is the fact that the HHS ruling does not exempt some religious groups from the requirement, including hospitals and schools. After an initial wave of protests when the rules were unveiled last month, the administration said it will reconsider those provisions.
Pat Shivers, of the Atlanta Archdiocese, said her self-insured diocese should not be compelled to pay for a service that it considers unethical. “We’re absolutely not going to do it, we are not going to pay for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization.”
Taking a different view, Jon O’Brien, president of the Washington-based Catholics for Choice, said by phone that the argument for freedom of religion also implies freedom from religion. Catholic employers shouldn’t be able to dictate the health services their employees can expect, he said.
Contraception is a nearly universal facet of American life. Ninety-nine percent of American women who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit concerned with reproductive health and abortion rights.
Still, one speaker Friday described oral contraceptives as “poison” and another described them as a poor substitute for self-control.
Amanda Figeredo, a freshman at Georgia Tech, addressed the group from under a rain shelter, taking issue with the attitude toward contraceptives at her school, which, she said, offered students condoms in advance of spring break. “They are skipping the truth we so need to hear, and instead they are handing us a contraceptive,” she said. “They do not protect me from disease,” she said, to cheers from the audience. “They do not protect me from being objectified rather than respected as a woman.”
Unmentioned at Friday’s rally was a Georgia law that already requires insurers to cover contraception costs, regardless of religious affiliation. The state Senate passed a measure earlier this month to create a religious exemption; it is unclear whether the House will pass it by the time the session ends next week.
Dr. Harry Heiman, director of health policy at Morehouse School of Medicine’s Satcher Health Leadership Institute, suggested that the reason the Georgia law didn’t draw criticism had to do with politics. “You’ll notice that the public outcry around these things tends to be more related to the politics of the day rather than the issue,” he said.
This article was originally published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.