PORTLAND, Maine — More than 100 people rallied Friday outside a federal courthouse to protest the Obama administration’s mandate on contraception in health care plans.
The event was part of a day of rallies in 140 cities across the country organized by those who view the mandate as an assault on religious freedom.
Controversy has swirled since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in January announced it would require most employers to include birth control in their health insurance plans under President Barack Obama’s federal health reform law.
Houses of worship are exempt from the mandate. Institutions with religious affiliations that serve the public and employ people of diverse backgrounds, including Catholic hospitals and schools, are not.
Outside the U.S. District Court on Federal Street, the Rev. Paul Dumais of Bridgton told the crowd that the government’s overreach was an affront to Catholic beliefs.
“For the present administration to strike at the heart of a Catholic conscience ought to, and in fact has, sent shock waves throughout this great country,” he said.
The mandate has infuriated Catholic leadership in the United States, who say their objections are about much more than birth control. The mandate threatens the religious liberty afforded under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, they say.
“I stand with you today against this tyranny and for freedom,” Ken Graves, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel in Orrington, told rally attendees.
He later led the group in a chorus of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” pulling a leather Bible from a holster on his belt and raising it before the crowd.
Supporters of the mandate frame it as a women’s health issue. Some have argued that denying women access to contraception while providing other preventive health services under the federal health reform law amounts to discrimination.
Since the January announcement, the Obama administration has softened its stance on the mandate, saying insurance companies would foot the bill for contraception when employers object.
The anti-abortion groups that organized Friday’s nationwide rallies argue that the administration’s stance still forces some employers to provide contraception against their will.
In Portland, Episcopal groups, the Christian Civic League and the conservative Concerned Women for America participated in the rally, among others. Attendees waved signs reading “Stand up for religious freedom,” “Keep your body out of my wallet” and “Obama — No We Can’t. What’s Next?”
Rally participant Mary Jo Daigle of Arundel said the birth control mandate was a “guise,” and worried that other Catholic beliefs, such as opposition to euthanasia, could be the government’s next target.
“We’ve always had the freedom to live our religion as we see fit under the Constitution,” she said.
The rally concluded with the crowd singing “God Bless America.”