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Lawmaker warns birth control rule could push religious groups out of healthcare

A conservative Republican lawmaker said the Obama administration's requirement that employers, including religious organizations, provide birth control as part of their health coverage could force groups to stop providing healthcare.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) was criticizing a new rule from the Health and Human Services Department that says healthcare insurance policies must cover contraception without charging a copay. Religious groups like the Catholic Church, which opposes contraception, are exempted. But groups run by the Catholic Church such as hospitals and charities would not be exempt.

As a result, Blackburn warned religious institutions are "going to be pushed out of the healthcare arena." In an interview on CNN, she criticized the rule as being "about forcing employers to provide things that go against their religious beliefs."

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Catholics have spoken out against the new rule, and Catholic lawmakers including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have called it "unconstitutional." Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney called it an "attack on religious freedom."

Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) last month characterized the new rule as an attempt to squeeze religion out of healthcare.

But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says religious institutions have to "play by the public rules" if they open their doors to the public.

The authority for the rule is taken from the healthcare reform law, which is hated by conservatives. Blackburn said it is just another example of "ObamaCare" forcing its way into people's lives.

"This is clearly an example where the federal government does not know best," she said. "What happened to the president saying if you like what you have, you can keep it?"

Louise Melling, deputy legal director for the ACLU, defended the new rule on CNN, saying, "What we're doing here is not exceptional." She pointed out that churches are excepted from the rule.

"Institutions like hospitals, charities, schools that open their doors to the public ... have to offer the same insurance everybody else does," she said. "This says if you play in the public sphere, you serve the public, you play by the public rules."

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