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June 29, 2012
TOPEKA A crowd of at least 2,000 people, most of them Catholics, gathered on the south lawn of the Kansas Statehouse to protest federal health reform regulations that require most health insurance plans to include free coverage of contraceptive services.
"Earlier this year the Obama administration mandated that people of faith would have to violate their beliefs in order to fulfill a government objective. That is wrong," Gov. Sam Brownback, flanked by Catholic bishops, told the cheering demonstrators.
The rally came the day after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, the authorizing legislation for the regulations that were first announced as a proposal by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in January.
The speech was a second signal in as many days from Brownback that he will be among the Republican state executives who will continue to resist the health reform law, despite the court's decision.
"This cannot be allowed to stand," Brownback said, calling the regulations "an attack on the Constitution, an attack upon our history and who we are as a people."
Some in the crowd seemed unclear about what the regulations would require and described them as more far-reaching than they actually are.
"I'm not happy," said Stephanie Frost, a Topeka woman who said she learned about the rally from a bulletin at Mater Dei Catholic Church. "We are fighting for our religious freedoms, and our president is trying to take them away. He's wanting the Catholic Church to have to pay for abortions and birth control."
"The issue is the HHS mandate that Catholic institutions will have to provide morning-after pills and contraception and force us to pay for it," said Father Bill Bruning, pastor of Mother Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Church in Topeka.
In fact, the regulations would not have required the church to pay for or offer contraceptive services. Instead, as originally spelled out, the rules would have required Catholic-affiliated nonprofit corporations, such as hospitals that rely primarily on non-Catholic employees, to include contraceptive services for free as part of their employees' insurance plans.
The Affordable Care Act says insurers must cover “preventive health services” free of charge, and the HHS regulations would count contraceptive services as preventive. They would require coverage of all contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Among the drugs and devices covered are emergency contraceptives. The coverage requirement also would include sterilization procedures for women without co-payments or deductibles. But it would not require coverage of abortions.
At least 28 states had similar rules already in place.
The Catholic Church sought exemption from the rules, which the administration denied. But it gave the Catholic organizations an extra year to comply with them. Other insurance plans must comply by Aug. 1.
The Obama administration subsequently said the regulations could allow the insurance plans to provide the coverage, while requiring "no role for religious employers who oppose contraception."
But Catholic groups continue to oppose the regulations and have filed more than 40 lawsuits nationwide contesting them.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic and former Kansas governor, has defended the regulations in various forums during the past few months.
“I think it is kind of shocking that [in] this day and age in 2012, we are still debating a prescription coverage that a vast majority … 90 percent of women use at some point in their lives,” Sebelius told the Miami Herald in March. “I think it was important to understand that the Obama administration feels very strongly that women should have access to preventive care, including the full range of contraception, without copayments or co-insurance."
Brownback, a converted Catholic and author of a spiritual autobiography titled "From Power to Purpose," was introduced at the rally by Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
"He is a great leader and one I consider a personal friend," Naumann said. "A great defender of religious liberty and freedom."
Soon after Brownback was inaugurated, the archbishop said, he received a phone call from a Brownback assistant asking if the governor could "get a key to Assumption Church (in Topeka) to go pray there" when the doors were locked.
That drew a cheer from the crowd.
"This mandate against our freedom is not just a religious issue," Brownback told the crowd. "This is the first line of the First Amendment. If they can take that away, what's safe?"
That also drew cheers.
Topeka police were on the scene to provide crowd and traffic control. Their unofficial crowd estimate was that there were at least 2,000 people. Brownback said it was the biggest rally he had ever seen at the Statehouse.
Nineteen buses came from Wichita parishes alone. And there were about a dozen others from elsewhere. Some in the crowd traveled from Salina, Garden City and other locations to attend the rally, which was held in blazing heat as temperatures topped the century mark.
The KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute and is committed to timely, objective and in-depth coverage of health issues and the policy making environment. Find more about the News Service at khi.org/newsservice or contact us at (785) 783-2529.