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Women from diocese join D.C. rally against HHS contraception mandate

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Not all women believe the government should force health insurance carriers to provide free contraception, and a few hundred of them, including 16 from the Diocese of Wilmington, rallied in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 1 to make their position known.

The rally was sponsored by Women Speak for Themselves, a group of mostly Catholic women who are opposed to the mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that contraception be included in health care plans.

The mandate was scheduled to take effect Aug. 1, hence the date of the rally, but it has been pushed back to Jan. 1 of next year.

Delia DeAscanis, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in New Castle who is active in Delaware’s pro-life community, said the idea behind the rally was to put a public face to the movement. The mandate, she said, is an infringement on women’s First Amendment rights to freedom of religion.

“This is not about agreeing with contraception,” she said. “I think the main message is that the women in this group disagree with the government’s assertion that contraception is part of women’s freedom.”

Jessica Ferraro of St. Hedwig Parish in Wilmington said Women Speak for Themselves welcomes women of all faiths, and some of them are proponents of contraception but don’t want to be forced to pay for others to get it. The next mandate might affect another faith like this one hit Catholics.

“We realize that even though Catholics may have felt the blow of the HHS Mandate most acutely, it’s not going to end there. Which religious group is going to be next?” she asked.

Eleven women spoke at the gathering, including Helen Alvare, a law professor at George Mason University Law School and a former pro-life official for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Teresa LoPorto, one of the local attendees, said Alvare was dynamic.

“Helen Alvare kind of summed it up: we are like the new hippies. We are the ones working against the system, and we’re right,” said LoPorto, a parishioner at St. Mary of the Assumption in Hockessin.

Ferraro said Alvare’s talk reminded her that “we as Catholic women are called to be a support for one another, and continue the discussion in our own diocese. Maybe there will be a woman reading this article who is using contraception and doesn’t understand why it is wrong.”

The Obama administration has carved out several exceptions to the mandate for religious employers and their affiliates, such as hospitals and universities, but DeAscanis said the exceptions do not matter. Everyone paying into a health care plan will contribute to contraceptive care, no matter where one stands on the issue.

“That’s where the accommodation doesn’t protect individuals,” she said. “Right now, there’s really no way to remove yourself from it.”