.- On March 23, more than 120 cities and towns across the U.S. will hear a demand to stop the Obama administration's contraception mandate and restore the freedom of religious institutions and believers.
“The buzz is incredible,” said Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, who is organizing the Nationwide Rally for Religious Freedom along with Citizens for a Pro-Life Society.
“I'm getting phone calls from people all over the country.”
When CNA last spoke with Scheidler, on Feb. 29, protests were being planned in around 50 cities. Since then, the administration has refused to withdraw or change its contraception insurance mandate – and the scope of the national protest movement has more than doubled.
“New cities and towns are still coming on to the rally every single day,” Scheidler said on March 20. “We went into the weekend with 110, we came out of the weekend with over 120.”
“The number of blog posts, and stories, and chatter on Facebook is another sign,” he noted. Based on these indications in both new and traditional media, he expects “a huge turnout across the country,” possibly reaching into the tens-of-thousands.
The March 23 protests, taking place at historic sites and government buildings, are scheduled for the Friday before the Church's Feast of the Annunciation. That date also happens to be the anniversary of Patrick Henry's 1775 “Give me liberty, or give me death” speech.
Scheidler says the protests are part of a movement that will not stop until it secures the free exercise of faith.
“At no point has the Obama administration ever taken seriously the conscience concerns, the moral objections, or the religious objections, of the American people to this mandate,” he observed.
“Until they allow all employers to opt out of providing contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs – which are not 'preventive care' for anything, because pregnancy is not a disease – we will continue to fight this mandate.”
The debate over the contraception rule has intensified in recent weeks, despite the White House's attempt to quell controversy in February by promising a set of accommodations that would involve different methods of payment and billing.
These changes were rejected by the U.S. Catholic bishops and others, who called for an end to the rule requiring institutions to provide contraception, sterilization, and abortion-causing drugs through their health plans.
Health and Human Services' most recent announcement suggested some alternate payment plans that religious institutions' insurance providers might use to cover contraception without a co-pay. But the same announcement made clear that the mandate's narrow exemption clause would not be revised.
Some supporters of the mandate have accused opponents of waging a “war on women.” President Obama has presented the argument as a debate over access to contraception, a charge Scheidler considers both a falsehood and a ruse.
“It is insulting to the intelligence of women, and men, that they continue to use this outrageous rhetoric – and create these entirely fictional 'crises.'”
“There's no contraception (access) 'crisis' in this country. And nobody – nobody! – is suggesting that contraceptives be banned.”
Opponents of the mandate, he said, are only demanding the right to opt out either of paying for contraception and abortion-causing drugs, or making contracts under which they would be provided.
Regarding the assertion of a “war on women,” Scheidler dismissed the charge as bogus – suggesting that the very idea was part of a “war going on against women's intelligence.”
“Anyone can see how much of the pro-life and pro-family movement is led by women,” he noted.
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