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Queens Chronicle

Turner, Dems clash on health mandate

Bill would carve out contraception exemptions for religious institutions

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Posted: Thursday, February 9, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 7:59 am, Mon Feb 27, 2012.

Congressman Bob Turner (R-Queens and Brooklyn) is cosponsoring a bill that would grant religious institutions exemptions from a new federal mandate that otherwise would require them to provide insurance coverage for contraceptive devices and drugs that are contrary to their beliefs.

In a statement issued by his office on Feb. 6, Turner blasted the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over the mandate, which would force private employers, including nonprofit religious institutions, to provide coverage for “all FDA-approved prescription contraceptives.”

But Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), who has formed an exploratory committee with the intent to run against Turner in November, said Tuesday that he supports current federal regulations.

The items in question include IUDs and so-called “morning-after pills” that Turner said have abortion-causing properties.

H.R. 1179, the Respect for Religious Rights of Conscience Act, would allow institutions to decline insurance coverage for specific items and services that are contrary to their religious beliefs.

Turner said the mandate is a blatant violation of the First Amendment, and that every person of faith, regardless of his or her religion, should be concerned.

“As a Catholic and an American who believes in religious freedom, the thought of government forcing an organization to go against its very morals is appalling,” he said. “This could open the door to further mandates that will force religious institutions to choose between providing care in a way that fits their values and beliefs or facing penalties from the very government that was founded on protecting those values and beliefs.

“This mandate penalizes religious organizations simply because they choose to follow beliefs that are older than the country itself,” he said.

Current laws exempt churches themselves, but not institutions such as religious hospitals, schools and charities.

Lancman said in a telephone interview that he had not yet read the new bill, but believes that regulations put in place last year, with one-year grace periods for non-exempt religious organizations, are sufficient.

“As long as people are getting their health insurance primarily through their employers, health insurance needs to provide what is medically necessary and appropriate,” Lancman said.

“I believe very strongly that individuals need to be free to make their own healthcare choices,” he said. “I don’t think employers should be dictating to individuals what their choices should be. That should be up to their personal consciences.”

Lancman’s view is supported by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-Queens and Manhattan).

“I strongly support President Obama’s decision to give any organization that is not solely religious one year to comply with the preventive care provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including all FDA-approved birth control medication,” Maloney said Tuesday in a statement issued by her office.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) had about the same to say about a companion bill being sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

“The use of birth control is a personal decision that should not be affected by your workplace,” said her statement. “It should be up to a woman and her family to decide to use it or not, not her boss.”

Turner did get support from the Rev. N.J. L’Hereux Jr., executive director of The Queens Federation of Churches. He also said he had not read the new bill.

“The exception for religious organizations is far too narrow,” he said. “Organizations such as Catholic Charities, Catholic hospitals should be free to be exempt if their consciences are offended by reason of this requirement.”

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