PORTLAND – About 120 Mainers protested the Affordable Care Act and federally mandated birth-control coverage during a religious rally staged at noon Friday in front of the federal courthouse on Federal Street.
It was one of 140 similar demonstrations that were planned Friday across the nation, urging President Obama to withdraw the pending birth-control requirement for employers with religious affiliations that oppose contraception.
Participants came from all over Maine and represented various faiths and age groups. They prayed, sang religious and patriotic songs, and carried U.S. flags, balloons and signs with slogans such as “Religious Freedom for All Americans” and “You Can Keep Your Change.”
“Citizens of Maine, will you stand up and stand your ground for religious freedom?” shouted Leslie Sneddon of Richmond, who organized the rally for the group Stand Up for Religious Freedom.
The crowd responded with cheers.
Several religious leaders spoke, including the Rev. Chad Williams of St. Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Church in Richmond.
Williams said the rally’s participants were celebrating their love for God and for God’s creation, whether “born or unborn.”
Andrew Healey, 16, of Bridgton stood at the edge of the crowd, facing passing traffic, holding both a Bible and the Stars and Stripes.
“This country was based on God’s word,” Healey explained. “If they throw out God’s word, our nation’s not going to survive long.”
Cindi Redmond, 59, of Litchfield held a sign protesting the health care reform law, known among its detractors as “Obamacare.”
She said she practices natural health care and doesn’t want to be forced to purchase insurance coverage when that federal mandate takes effect in 2014.
“It’s completely inconsistent with the Constitution,” Redmond said. “They’re undoing 4,000 years of separating church and state. I want my choice for health care.”
Redmond acknowledged that people wouldn’t be forced to use contraception under the Affordable Care Act.
Still, she said, it’s wrong that health insurance companies will be required to provide birth-control coverage for employees of hospitals and other institutions that have religious affiliations.
The president signed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, intent on extending health coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans.
It requires all but the smallest companies to cover their workers, mandates that everyone have insurance or pay a fine, requires insurance companies to cover everyone, regardless of pre-existing conditions and assists people who can’t afford insurance.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a legal challenge to the law starting next week. Maine is one of 26 states that have joined the challenge.
Various aspects of the legislation are taking effect over time. Employers with religious affiliations may delay providing health plans that cover contraception until 2013.
After the rally, Charlotte Warren, associate director of the Maine Women’s Lobby, said current national interest in the contraception issue is part of a larger attempt to undermine health care reform.
She said it is typical for a woman to spend about five years being pregnant or trying to get pregnant and about 30 years trying to prevent pregnancy.
Surveys show 99 percent of sexually active women in the United States, including 98 percent of Roman Catholic women, have used birth-control medications or devices.
Warren said making sure contraception is accessible to all women is a critical issue that’s inseparable from comprehensive health care.
“Employers shouldn’t be able to cherry-pick health care benefits for their employees based on their own personal religious beliefs,” Warren said. “If religiously affiliated hospitals or institutions want to be part of the public sphere, they have to follow the same rules as other businesses.”
Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: