The national political controversy over whether contraceptive coverage should be an insurance mandate is now a hot debate locally, with a high-profile prayer rally planned Friday in St. Petersburg.
From noon - 3 p.m., the prayer rally will be staged at 4th Street North and 22nd Avenue North. In addition, the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg wrote a protest letter in February to voice oppotion to the mandate.
The organized opposition, largely by religious groups, is to President Barack Obama's Health and Human Services Affordable Care Act. The act requires insurers to cover birth control for women, a mandate sparking partisan debate.
The most visible opposition locally will be Friday's prayer rally along 4th Street North, a busy commercial highway in St. Petersburg.
According to a news release, several St Petersburg residents are joining this effort, in alliance with participants from 100 other cities for the March 23 Stand Up for Religious Freedom rally.
"This prayer and witness rally is intended to peacefully alert the public to the strange manipulations of the HHS mandate," said Michael Brennan of the Coalition in Defense of Church Teaching. "We hope and have asked non Catholics to join us in scripture reading.
"We intend to draw attention to the injustice of the federal government’s trivializing the conscience of American citizens as we emphasize the national opposition to the HHS Mandate—a ruling that is shocking to millions of Americans.
"Never before have American Catholic Bishops been intimidated to put their (approval) on acts they have been consecrated by God to disapprove," Brennan added. "In this episode we have witnessed the tactics of Eastern Europe under communism. This sort of government intrusion must be stopped.”
The nationwide Stand Up for Religious Freedom coalition calls upon all Americans to oppose the mandate for the following reasons:
"We protest the federal government's definition of what constitutes a religious institution and the mission of religious institutions through the narrowly constructed “exemption” to the HHS Mandate. Not only is this definition false, but the federal government has no authority to make it.
We protest that religious institutions (even under Obama’s so-called “accommodation”) are still forced to facilitate contraception, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs through insurance companies that are mandated to provide them.
We protest the Mandate for forcing all businesses -- not just religious institutions -- to provide coverage of contraception, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates the employer’s own moral position on these matters."
The national pushback against the mandate is countered by an equally strong argument for insurance companies to cover birth control.
In a statement released on March 16, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards issued a statement:
"As women’s health opponents continue their unprecedented assault on access to basic health care, today, the Obama administration reaffirmed its commitment women’s health.
"... the Obama administration is fulfilling its promise that women will have access to birth control coverage, with no costly co-pays and no additional hurdles, no matter where they work.
"For many women, especially college students, birth control is not only a health care issue, it is a financial issue. Covering birth control with no co-pays means college students will not have to choose between paying for tuition and books, or paying for basic health care like birth control."
On March 20, Richards said the fight against contraceptives being covered by health insurance companies is a war on women.
“Unfortunately, anti-women’s health politicians want to take away these health care benefits, and repeal ACA. If they had their way, more women would be uninsured, medical discrimination against women would be legal again, and women would once again be forced to pay more for health care and get less for their money than men."
Locally, the issue has also caused quite a stir.
On Feb. 4, Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese St. Petersburg wrote a letter voicing his and the church's displeasure with Catholic institutions providing contraceptive services.
"This is indeed the worst assault on religious freedom by the Federal government in a long time," Lynch wrote. "Those of you who have known and watched me over the 16 years it has been my privilege to be your bishop know that I have until now refrained from engaging in political discourse. But this is now a moral issue and the timing by the President leaves me no option but to inform you of what is happening, which I believe to be an assault on the sacred."
, who runs saintpetersblog.com, wrote that type of politicking within the Catholic Church makes him want to leave the church.
"When I leave the Catholic Church, and increasingly I believe that departure is imminent, it will be because of the actions of church leaders like Robert Lynch, head of the Diocese of St. Petersburg," wrote Schorsch in .
"I wonder why I am hearing so much from my Church now when I heard so little from it during the child-abuse scandals that rocked so many Catholics' faith?," Schorsch continued. "With the Church's house still in disorder because of that scandal, I must also wonder why Bishop Lynch is wading so deep into public affairs."