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October 20. 2012 8:32PM

O'Brien, Petrocelli headline rally opposing HHS mandate


Sylvia Smith from Littleton bows her head in prayer, during a "Stand Up for Religion Freedom Rally" on Saturday at the State House in Concord. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)


Former Red Sox player Rico Petrocelli and his wife, Elise, from Nashua, left, talk with Wally Woodman, from Merrimack, center, and David Girard, from Goffstown, during the "Stand Up for Religion Freedom Rally", on Saturday at the State House in Concord. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)


Former Red Sox player Rico Petrocelli listens to the speakers before his turn, during the "Stand Up for Religion Freedom Rally" on Saturday at the State House in Concord. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

CONCORD — About 200 people attended a rally at the State House on Saturday to voice their opposition to federal mandates requiring health insurance companies to provide vaccines and contraceptives.

Saying the mandates violate religious freedom, several speakers, including state House Speaker William O'Brien and former Boston Red Sox infielder and Nashua businessman Rico Petrocelli, said the mandates would force employers to provide such services despite religious objections.

'All-out war'

The administration of President Barack Obama “has launched an all-out war on religious freedom and the dignity of women in America,” said Shannon McGinley, acting executive director of the conservative Cornerstone Action group, which put on Saturday's rally.

The mandates, which compel insurance companies to offer birth control services approved by the Food and Drug Administration without a copay, were enacted Aug. 1 as part of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. Saturday's rally was part of a nationwide, 100-city rally to protest the mandates.

O'Brien said the mandates violate the guarantee of religious freedom provided for in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“Our founders did not intend this amendment to protect government from religion, which is a current misunderstanding,” O'Brien said. “It was intended to protect religion from government.”

Petrocelli, the owner of Petrocelli Marketing Group in Nashua, said he has been in business for more than 14 years and called the federal health care law “ridiculous.”

“As a believer, and being pro-life, how can I possibly give an abortion-inducing drug to an employee, a female employee, and have a conscience?” he said.

“There's no way. And to be fined and possibly lose our business if this thing continues the way it is? I tell you what: If I have to make a choice, then I'm going to lose my business.”

State law mandate

A state law that has been in effect for more than 12 years, like the federal law, mandates that insurance companies must provide contraception. When opposition to the contraception mandate became a national issue, O'Brien led efforts to repeal the state's mandate.

Earlier this year, the House passed a measure that would have allowed employers to exclude coverage of contraceptives if they had a “religious objection,” but the Senate sent it to interim study.

The House later added the provision to another Senate bill, but a committee of conference removed it, killing it for the session.

Holly Shulman, a spokeswoman for Obama's campaign in New Hampshire, said in response to Saturday's rally that Romney and his running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, “are too extreme on the critical issue of women's health.

President Obama has always been a strong advocate for women's health, but Romney would roll back the clock and make women's health decisions for them.”

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Tim Buckland may be reached at tbuckland@unionleader.com.


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