US mandates birth control subsidies7th February 2012
The Obama administration has announced that all religious institutions will be required to subsidise birth control.
The requirement will be part of President Obama's healthcare plan.
Catholics, who represent a sizeable minority in the US, are outraged at the law, calling it a form of religious intolerance.
According to Catholic doctrine, the use of contraception is sinful.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is protesting against the law, encouraging local priests to read their petition aloud.
Jose H. Gomez, the archbishop of Los Angeles, said that Obama's new mandate was a direct attack on Catholics.
He said the law attacked the freedom of Catholic institutions.
The bishops have urged Catholics in the US to bombard lawmakers with their letters, e-mails, and phone calls.
But not all Catholics see the issue the same way.
Joe Casillas, an obstetrician in Southern California who routinely prescribes birth control, said that while he is a practising Catholic, he recommends that the women he treats use birth control.
He said that, however, he did not agree that all religious institutions should be forced to subsidise birth control.
Although Casillas voted for Obama nearly four years ago, he does not know if he will be able to do so again.
About 25% of all US voters are Catholic, and the constituency tends to vote unpredictably.
In past elections, Catholic vote has been at times overwhelmingly Democratic, overwhelmingly Republican, and at others, completely divided.
Many Catholics voted Republican to elect George W. Bush, but many also voted Democrat to elect Barack Obama.
According to the Obama administration itself, subsidising birth control is part of offering women equal rights.
The federal healthcare law places a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of employers, but not all employers will be required to do the same.
Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, a group that supports Catholic access to birth control, said he personally knew many women who were angry at the bishops' conference for calling on people to protest.
He said that such women felt being treated differently from other workers was an act of discrimination.
Women who pay for contraception without access to health insurance typically spend up to US$80 (£50) a month.
One recent study showed that women who pay high prices for birth control sometimes skip doses to cut costs.
Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human Services, who announced the policy, said she believed the proposal struck the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing people's access.
Spanish-speaking Catholics played a big role in Obama's election nearly four years ago.
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