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Catholics slam Ackerman on birth control mandate

Florence Maloney (r.), chairwoman of the Joint Parish Respect for Life Committee, holds up a sign with others pious protesters. Photo by Joe Anuta
TimesLedger Newspapers

A group of religious residents from churches across Queens picketed outside the office of U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) Friday afternoon to protest a controversial federal health care mandate that would require all employers to cover birth control as part of any insurance plan.

The protest was coordinated as part of a national day of protest at locations all around the country on behalf of the Pro-Life Action League.

Ray Mooney, a Flushing resident, helped to organize the picket, which drew about 80 people holding up signs bearing sayings such as “NObamacare” and “Religious freedom.”

“A line has been drawn in the sand,” Mooney said. “What we have seen is the U.S. government say to the Catholic Church, ‘We don’t care.’”

The protesters outside Ackerman’s office were mainly Catholics from parishes from around the borough, including St. Josaphat in Bayside and Our Lady of Mercy in Forest Hills.

Mooney said the Catholic faith does not believe in using contraceptives, especially birth control medication that the Pro-Life Action League refers to as “abortion-inducing drugs.” The federal government forcing any Catholic organization to do so, according to Mooney, constitutes an assault on religious freedom.

The issue rose to hot-button status late last year, and the city’s ecclesiastical heavyweights — Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn — eventually weighed in.

Dolan has roundly criticized the mandate, which is part of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act, and scoffed at a recent compromise offered by the administration whereby an insurance company would cover the contraceptives instead of the organization.

DiMarzio, on the other hand, explained his objections to the mandate with a hypothetical situation.

“If an enzyme was found in pork that had great curative powers of cancer, would the government force observant Jews and Muslims to eat pork in order to prevent cancer?” he asked, according to a spokeswoman.

But groups like the National Women’s Law Center have said the issue is instead about a woman’s right to have access to preventative health care, which might be too costly to purchase without help from an insurer.

On its website, the center outlined several reasons why access to contraception and planning pregnancies keeps women healthier.

Ackerman drew the ire of the protesters for both his failure to send down a representative to the picket line and for his voting record supporting abortion rights as well as women’s access to contraceptives.

Some of the protesters hoped to see a Republican in Ackerman’s place after he retires Jan. 2, 2013. And Joint Parish Respect for Life Committee chairwoman Florence Maloney said a GOP upset by Rep. Bob Turner (R-Middle Village) could portend good things for pro-life groups like the committee, which is also opposed to same-sex marriage, according to Maloney.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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