The government has taken an unprecedented step in further eroding religious liberty and freedom of conscience by mandating that nearly all health insurance plans include contraceptive services.

This order even includes religiously affiliated organizations and business owners with moral objections, who until now have been protected by the First Amendment. This is a violation of conscience and an intrusion into the right to religious freedom.

The largest targets for this order are Catholic health care institutions, human service agencies, schools and universities. Why is this such an important issue?

Consider the following numbers: One of every six hospital patients in the United States is cared for in a Catholic hospital. Catholic Charities is the largest private provider of a myriad of social services that annually assist more than 9 million clients nationally. There are 244 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States and 2.1 million children in Catholic schools.

No one, including these institutions, should be mandated to provide services which are in direct opposition to deeply held values and beliefs. Maine Bishop Richard Malone and other U.S. bishops have been courageously outspoken in the midst of much bias and misunderstanding.

The American Civil Liberties Union and others have equated Catholic bioethics with unjust discrimination against women. It seems that tolerance is promoted by such groups only when it serves their own agendas.

The administration has imposed this mandate to further its control in health care through an unparalleled abuse of power. If left unchanged, this regulation could devastate our most vulnerable citizens because many religiously affiliated institutions could be forced to close.

We must galvanize as people of every faith or no faith at all to preserve the rights our forefathers established. Contact your congressional representative to insist that this flawed, unconstitutional order be rescinded.

Laura Madigan McCown

Oakland

President Obama should not have compromised with the Catholic Church and the right wing concerning the birth control mandate.

Religion is defined as a system of moral attitudes, beliefs and practices. The First Amendment right to religious freedom is not absolute. There are many examples of religious beliefs being declared by the courts as invalid when attempting to thwart reasonable government policy.

A personal example is that I was morally and religiously opposed to the Vietnam and Iraq wars. I still had to pay taxes to support those wars, as did members of the Quaker faith, who oppose all war. In fact, I refused to pay a tax passed specifically to support the Vietnam War, and the government attached my wages.

Catholic universities and hospitals receive much government support in the form of tax exemptions, student aid and/or research assistance. These are secular institutions that support a secular purpose.

Ninety-eight percent of Catholic women and 99 percent of all women have used birth control at some point in their lives. Twenty-eight states mandate birth control coverage for employers with prescription drug plans.

A significant number of women take birth control due to health issues, including a good friend who has lupus and a niece who has had Lyme disease for 15 years. A pregnancy could be life-threatening to these women.

Making birth control more difficult to get will increase the number of abortions. All of these facts support the argument that the birth control regulation is a reasonable government regulation. Caving on this issue will set this country back decades in terms of women’s rights and reproductive health.

Kim Matthew

Westbrook

I would be curious to know about insurance coverage for erectile dysfunction in men — you know, the V drug (Viagra). Do men employed by religiously affiliated organizations have the same restrictive insurance coverage as those imposed on women in matters of contraception?

Linda Cornish Rioux

Old Orchard Beach

Nancy A. Ciocca’s letter to the editor states, “When women’s needs are conflated with church doctrines, women always come out last” (“Birth control is women’s health issue,” Feb. 15).

Relations between China and the Catholic Church are tense precisely because of the church’s “inflexible” dogma.

Catholic teachings protect women from forced marriages and unwanted abortions. They uphold a woman’s right to have children without being penalized, and protect their right to raise them in a society that respects individual rights, including the right to disagree without fear of government retribution.

These teachings are anything but “irrelevant.”

Truly, how fortunate we are that we can put our energies to dissension over birth control, gay marriage and woman priests. Truly, how fortunate we are that if our government tried to punish us for this or any other dissent, the Catholic Church would support us, no matter our deviation from its teachings.

Zoe Goody

Cape Elizabeth

To Andrea L. Irwin, the writer of the letter touting the “health benefits” of the birth control pill (“Birth control is women’s health issue,” Feb. 15), puh-leeze!

Welcome to the 21st century, where medical research has detailed the litany of destructive effects the pill has wrought in the lives of women in this country and in Europe: breast cancer, cervical cancer, ectopic pregnancy, heart attack, stroke, low bone density and much more.

Supplemental estrogen found in the pill is a toxin and is listed as such on the list of Class I carcinogens. Teenagers who are routinely prescribed the pill are taking the biggest gamble of all. Risk of breast cancer rises significantly in those who begin taking the pill at an early age.

Research detailing these risks can be found all over the Web. Among the many studies, check this one: www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/oral-contraceptives.

Anyone who believes that the birth control pill provides a “health benefit” truly has not done her research. Furthermore, allowing this substance to become freely accessible through health coverage will reap harmful, catastrophic consequences.

Joanne Tibbetts

Scarborough