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Obama adds stipulation to Affordable Care Act to deal with religious opposition

Published: Monday, February 20, 2012

Updated: Monday, February 20, 2012 12:02

Health Center

BRANDON BAKER/Northern Iowan

AspartoftheAffordableCareAct,startinginAugust2012,studentscoveredundertheuniversity’s student health insurance plan will be able to receive a variety of free contraceptives. They are already able to come to the Student Health Clinic (above) for free counseling on birth control.

In response to opposition from religious institutions, President Barack Obama created a compromise to the Affordable Care Act, a health care reform law that requires all insurance plans to provide preventive care, such as contraceptives, domestic violence screenings and well-woman visits, at no out-of-pocket cost to the patient.

On Feb. 10, Obama proposed that employers holding a religious objection to providing contraceptives should not be responsible for paying for such services or for providing these services directly. Instead, in such cases, insurance companies will be responsible for providing these services free of charge.

The Affordable Care Act has Anastasia Nicklaus, director of liturgy and music at St. Stephen the Witness Catholic Student Center, questioning her religious liberties.

"Conscience rights matter. For any institution and, for me particularly, (for) the religious institution to provide things counter to (what) their own teachings present — it just doesn't seem like a good idea," Nicklaus said.

Nicklaus also said she does not agree with the proposed compromise.

"While I think it has been presented as a compromise, the stipulations that they place on what a religious organization is and their ability to have (this) compromise maintained is so narrow," Nicklaus said. "It becomes a fairly moot point."

Michael Dippold, vice-president of the University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers, said he believes the new compromise is suitable.

"I think it was a very pragmatic way of getting this passed without ruffling too many feathers," said Dippold, a senior economics major. "It makes sense. Obviously, I disagree with the religious opposition, but I understand where they're coming from, and I think this basically solves the problem. I don't think it should be their (religious organizations') concern and with the new regulations it just isn't. It's not something that they need to worry about."

Shelley Matthews, director of the UNI Student Health Clinic, said she believes the new law is a step in the right direction in terms of maintaining the health and wellness of students at UNI.

"I'm looking at it in a positive light," Matthews said. "What I believe is that now students will look at long-term birth control options as more affordable. Especially this particular age group, they're (a) perfect age group (for) what we call an Implanon or a Mirena... so I hope students look at a more reliable birth control option."

According to Matthews, starting in August 2012, students covered under the university's student health insurance will be able to receive a variety of contraceptives. They are also able to come to the Student Health Clinic to receive free counseling on birth control. According to Matthews, health visits are covered under the mandatory student health fee, and contraceptives are covered under optional student health insurance.

Nicklaus is worried about what the new law may mean for the religious freedom of the nation.

"Supposedly there's this separation of church and state, but this disallows that really, and it forces us to work against our conscience," Nicklaus said. "Maybe people can say these are little issues (or) this doesn't matter that much, but what's the next thing then? That religious liberty is supposed to be supported by our constitution, so you start wondering, what's going to happen?"

Dippold said he finds the new law constitutional.

"From my understanding, there is a lot of precedent that says that you can pass restrictions on religious freedom as long as (the restrictions are) general... if there was a law that says comprehensive coverage provided by employers has to cover blood transfusions, and you happen to be employed by someone who's a Jehovah's Witness, there's really no case they can make there," Dippold said.

Dippold also said he believes the law will have a positive impact.

"It's a purely medical issue, and it's sort of a no-brainer. I think the opponents of contraceptives don't understand the impact or implications of denying them," Dippold said. "They're so great — I can give you the most liberal or the most conservative argument on why contraceptives would be a good thing in the short end and in the long run."

Matthews said she is hopeful that students who are considering birth control will come into the Student Health Clinic to receive advice.

"I would say that being nervous is 100 percent normal, and I want (students) to know a lot of students come in and get health advice on contraceptives," Matthews said. "We want them to be comfortable with their birth control. We want them to understand it because if you're comfortable with it and understand it, the more committed you'll be to taking it and staying on that."

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