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A crowd of more than 400 people from several area congregations gathered Downtown over the lunch hour Friday to protest a federal plan that would require employers to pay for contraceptives in their health care plans.

Places of worship would be exempt from the rule, although other religiously affiliated institutions such as hospitals would have to comply. It's unclear whether churches with self-funded insurance plans would need to pay for contraception coverage for their employees.

Part of a nationwide protest, the rally filled the plaza in front of the federal court building, 120 N. Henry St.

Bishop Robert Morlino spoke to the crowd, exhorting them to fight the rule, part of President Barack Obama's health care plan, that goes into effect in August. Morlino said the controversy is less about the practice of contraception than religious freedom and conscience.

"An employer should not have his conscience overturned so someone else can have free access to things with which he is in total disagreement," said Morlino.

Morlino added that religious opponents of the rule are not arguing against the right of others to practice contraception.

"Someone's right to practice contraception, that right is completely intact," Morlino said. "They have a civil right. That is in no way under threat. What we are talking about is forcing us to pay for it."

Nicole Safar, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin, said not requiring all employers to pay for contraceptives as part of their health insurance plans amounts to discrimination against women.

[Editor's note: This story has been changed to reflect a correction. Places of worship would be exempt from a federal rule that requires employers to pay for contraceptives in their health plans. The original story incorrectly described the rule as it applies to churches.]

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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