Harkin: Free Birth Control Mandated Because Women ‘Have Terrible Menstrual Cramps’

July 31, 2012 - 1:36 PM

(CNSNews.com) – Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) today justified what the Catholic bishops of the United States have unanimously called an “unjust and illegal mandate” that forces Catholic business owners to provide coverage for free sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs because, Harkin said, some women need birth control pills to deal with menstrual pain.

“There are many women who take birth control pills, for example, because they have terrible menstrual cramps once a month, some of them almost incapacitated, can’t work,” said Harkin. “I know of young women myself who, because of this, aren’t able to work and be productive, and it’s prescribed by their doctor.”

In an interview with CNSNews.com, Harkin at no time contested that the regulation required Catholics to act against their faith. Instead, he likened forcing a Catholic to purchase health insurance that covers sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs to forcing Quakers to pay taxes to cover a war.

“It’s like a Quaker who pays income taxes,” said Harkin.   “They have to pay income taxes.  Quakers, as you know, have unalterably been opposed to war and military spending.  Yes, some of their taxes have to go to that.”

The “preventive services” regulation, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), goes into effect on Aug. 1. It mandates that nearly all health insurance plans must offer sterilizations, contraceptives, and abortion-inducing drugs free of charge.

More than 40 Catholic entities and business owners have filed suit against the mandate arguing that it violates the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion by forcing Catholics to buy and/or provide health plans that violate Catholic teaching.

Last Friday, a federal judge in Colorado issued a temporary injunction stopping the Obama administration from enforcing the regulation against Hercules Industries, a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning business owned by a Catholic family.

Sen. Tom Harkin

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). (AP Photo)

During a press conference on Tuesday, CNSNews.com asked Harkin, “The Catholic Bishops have unanimously declared this regulation to be an ‘illegal and unjust mandate.’  A judge on Friday issued an injunction, in Colorado, stopping it from being enforced on a Catholic small business owner.  Do you believe that the federal government has a moral right to force Catholic small business owners to act against their faith?”

Harkin said, “What I do believe is that the Obama administration carved out a very sensible, sort of middle ground exception to this, in which churches, religious organizations, certainly are exempted from this, but for-profit businesses, a broad variety, they don’t have to pay in if they don’t want to for the individual, but they do have to pay into the health care and it’s up to the insurance companies whether or not they want to carry this as a provision. So, I think the exception that the Obama administration come up with is sensible.”

“I think we also have to keep in mind, a lot of times we talk about birth control or contraception, many times for many young women of child bearing age, it’s not just to prevent a birth, or prevent a pregnancy,” he said.

“There are many women who take birth control pills, for example, because they have terrible menstrual cramps once a month, some of them almost incapacitated, can’t work.”

“I know of young women myself who, because of this, aren’t able to work and be productive, and it’s prescribed by their doctor,” said Harkin.  “Are we now being told that a woman has to take that prescription from a doctor, and take it and show it to her employer?  Or show it to her insurance company about what the diagnosis is?  You wouldn’t ask anyone to do that.  I wouldn’t ask any woman to do that. So, I think that we have to move ahead on this.”

Kathleen Sebelius Barack Obama

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and President Barack Obama at the White House on Feb. 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Harkin continued, “I don’t know what the outcome of this case in Colorado is going to be, I know it’s a preliminary injunction while the case, while it’s decided. I don’t know all the facts of the case, I just don’t, but I do believe that we have carved out, the Obama administration carved out a viable exception for religious organizations, churches.”

Contrary to Harkin's assertions, the religious "exemption" in the HHS regulation applies only to religious organizations organized under the section of the tax code reserved for churches per se. It does not apply to Catholic hospitals, schools or charities, or to individual Catholic workers or business owners. Nor does it apply to insurance companies.

Under Obamacare, all businesses with 50 or more full-time employees must purchase government-approved health-care plans for their workers or face steep penalties and all individuals must purchase health insurance whether they run their own business or work for somebody else.

pill

Birth control pills. (AP Photo)

After the press conference, CNSNews.com followed up with Harkin, asking, “The compromise you said was a good one, for the religious issue.  But how, just an individual, who has a religious objection to it, they now under this law have to buy insurance and the insurance they buy, they have to pay into something that they consciously don’t believe in.  So, how is that valid?”

Harkin said, “It’s like a Quaker who pays income taxes. They have to pay income taxes.  Quakers, as you know, have unalterably been opposed to war and military spending.  Yes, some of their taxes have to go to that.  But it’s a conscientious thing for them.”

“Now, how about this?  Let’s take it even a step further,” Harkin said.  “Let’s just talk about this, let’s say that you have an employer and they say, ‘I have a religion, I belong to this religion, the ABC religion, and this religion believes and it’s one of our faith principles that women have to be subject to men and that women should not be employed, therefore I’m not going to hire women.’  Should they be allowed to do that?  I mean it’s a faith, it’s part of his religion!”

“Now, maybe the church only has 20 members, but what the heck,” he said.

CNSNews.com then asked, “But if it’s a Catholic charity?”

“I don’t care, Catholic,” Harkin said.

CNSNews.com followed up: “Nobody is forcing anyone to work there if you disagree with that belief.  Is there really a crisis in access to contraception that it needs to be federally funded as much as war needs to be federally funded?  Is that what you’re saying?”

“For a lot of low-income women, the answer is yes,” he said.  “Birth control pills especially.”

“I’m talking about people that maybe don’t qualify, but they’re just above the threshold,” Harkin said.

“I mean birth control pills, especially for a woman, let’s say is taking them not for avoidance of pregnancy but they're taking them because, as I mentioned there, let’s be honest about it, I know a lot of young women who take these because their menstrual pains are so bad they get incapacitated.”

“They take -- doctor’s prescribe this, they aren’t able to work,” said Harkin.  “Now, are you going to tell this young woman you’ve got to take that and show it to your employer, show that to your insurance company to justify it?”\

“I’m sorry, I draw the line,” Harkin said.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, birth control pills may be prescribed to treat painful menstrual periods.