70 Catholic Doctors Sign Petition Supporting Obama Birth Control Mandate

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High-profile politicians and Catholic organizations may be rebelling against a provision of President Barack Obama's health care reform law that requires health insurance companies to cover contraception, but at least 70 Catholic doctors have urged the  administration to maintain the controversial mandate.

Since Wednesday morning, 600 physicians and medical students from 49 states -- including 70 who identify themselves as Catholics -- have added their name to a Doctors For America petition asking Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Obama to stand strong on the rule, which would allow women to access contraception through their insurance plans without co-pays.

The mandate, a provision of the Affordable Care Act, makes exceptions for churches and church-sponsored organizations, but requires religious-affiliated institutions such as universities and hospitals to provide the coverage. While the rule simply gives women an option to access to birth control, conservative Republicans are demanding a reversal of the policy under the claim that requiring those institutions' health plans to cover birth control is a violation of their religious freedom.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has criticized the rule, saying it is a violation of Roman Catholic teachings that specifically ban contraception. The Republican presidential candidates -- as well as the GOP leadership in Congress -- have used that Catholic principle to justify their argument that Obama has a disdain for religious freedom, despite the fact that an estimated 98 percent of sexually active Catholics in the U.S. reportedly using some form of birth control.

In the letter, Doctors for America emphasizes that providing easy access to birth control is a legitimate health care issue, not a secular attack on religious beliefs.

As physicians, we see every day how important contraception access is to women, Dr. Alice Chen, executive director of Doctors for America, said in a statement. As health care providers, our highest concern is the health of our patients.

The doctors emphasized that more than half of women between the ages of 15 and 44 use oral birth controls pills for medical reasons aside from preventing pregnancy, such as alleviating menstrual pain, acne and endometriosis. Moreover, they point out that providing easy access to contraceptives reduces the rate of unwanted pregnancies and, as a result, abortion.

While opponents of the contraception mandate insist that Catholics as a group are offended by the regulations, a Public Policy Polling analysis found that 53 percent of Catholics actually support the Obama administration in this issue, which isn't substantively different from the population at large.

In fact, it is evangelical Protestants, whose religion does not specifically forbid contraceptives, who seem to oppose the ruling. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, only 38 percent of evangelicals support the coverage, compared to 50 percent of mainline Protestants and 61 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans.

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