Supporters, opponents mark anniversary of health care law

Rally against Health and Human Services mandate
A large crowd fills the Warren E. Burger Federal Building Plaza in downtown St. Paul for a noontime Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally on Friday, March 23, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Friday brought out a flurry of rallies from those who like — and dislike — President Barack Obama's controversial health care law.

Not only does today mark the Affordable Care Act's second anniversary but it is also the weekend before the Supreme Court hears landmark arguments on whether that law is constitutional. On Monday, the high court begins six hours of hearings over three days.

There was no shortage of rhetoric on Friday in Minnesota, including a visit by the president's point person in carrying out the law — Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

At a gathering in Spring Lake Park at the home of Linda Hamilton, head of the Minnesota Nurses Association, Sebelius listened as about a half-dozen women, including Lisa Doyle, recounted how the federal health care law helped them.

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"I truly believe my daughter is alive today as a result of it," Doyle said.

Doyle said the law made it possible for her 25-year-old daughter, Julie, to stay on her parents' insurance rather than lose her insurance. During that time, Doyle said her daughter was diagnosed with a heart condition that led to her receiving a pacemaker.

Others sitting in the living room included Gov. Mark Dayton, Sen. Al Franken, and Rep. Betty McCollum. Afterwards, at an impromptu press conference on the driveway, Sebelius said the Obama administration is optimistic going into arguments before the Supreme Court.

Women's health conversation with Kathleen Sebelius
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, left, met with Fridley resident Linda Hamilton, right, and other women to hear how health care reform has helped them and their families Friday, March 23, 2012 at Hamilton's home. Sen. Al Franken, Rep. Betty McCollum and Gov. Mark Dayton also attended the event.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

"The president asked for the case to be expedited to end any uncertainty that people understand that this is the law of the land, that it's in place, we are implementing it," Sebelius said. "And so the arguments will be next week and I'm confident the law will be upheld."

About an hour later in St. Paul, hundreds gathered in front of the federal courthouse to oppose to the law, in particular a requirement that businesses provide health care coverage that includes contraceptives. The crowd of men, women and children hoisted signs that read, "Stop the Obama regs" and "Stop the assault on the First Amendment."

The event was organized by Pro-Life Action Ministries and included speakers such as Rev. John M. Quinn, bishop of the Diocese of Winona, and a University of St. Thomas law professor and unsuccessful congressional candidate, Teresa Collett.

"When they say we're members of the radical right who oppose women, say a majority of women in this country understand that freedom of religion is the foundation upon which we are built. And we as women in this crowd stand by the churches," Collett said to the crowd.

Rally against Health and Human Services mandate
Rev. John M. Quinn, Bishop of the Diocese of Winona, speaks during a religious freedom rally in downtown St. Paul at the Warren E. Burger Federal Building Plaza, Friday, March 23, 2012, where people were protesting the Obama administration's Health and Human Services mandate.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

The Catholic bishops as well as some other religious organizations want business owners who oppose contraceptives to be able to opt out of the law's requirement, based on conscience.

For attendees like Crystal Crocker of Mendota Heights, the issue is larger than birth control; it's about religious rights.

"This wouldn't stop here. This could continue on to other subjects and topics that would affect our beliefs and our rights to express and live our religious faith."

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the federal health care law sometime this summer. However, that may not be the last word on the law if Obama loses his re-election bid or the balance of power in Congress shifts.