Orthodox groups protest federal decision on contraception


WASHINGTON (JTA) — Two Orthodox groups protested the Obama administration’s decision to require some religiously affiliated institutions to cover contraception as part of their employee health plans.

The Orthodox Union on Tuesday and Agudath Israel of America on Wednesday released statements criticizing the Jan. 20 announcement by the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius.

Under the Affordable Care Act, employer-provided health insurance plans are required to include contraception and related “preventive” services for employees.

Catholic Church leaders had urged that an exemption for religious institutions include a broad range of religiously affiliated institutions. But the Department of Health and Human Services defined the religious exemption more narrowly, excluding religiously affiliated institutions that serve wider constituencies such as hospitals, social service agencies and colleges.

Catholic religious leaders sharply criticized the department’s decision, and the two Orthodox Jewish groups warned that the move harms religious freedom.

Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s vice president for federal government affairs and Washington director, said that the decision “only muddied the waters and took a step backwards by imposing religiously objectionable mandates on religious entities and by devising an astoundingly counterproductive limitation on what ‘religious groups’ are and what their public mission in society should be.”

Nathan Diament, executive director of public policy for the Orthodox Union, said in a statement that the “most troubling” aspect of the decision was the Obama administration’s “underlying rationale for its decision, which appears to be a view that if a religious entity is not insular, but engaged with broader society, it loses its ‘religious’ character and liberties.”

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