Final rule issued on birth-control access for faith-based employers
The Obama administration on Friday offered its final compromise for
faith-based groups that object to covering birth control in their
employee health plans, even as the issue faces new legal challenges.
final rule does not differ greatly from a proposed version issued
earlier this year that sought to offer a way for women to get the
coverage without forcing religiously affiliated organizations to pay for
it. Under the rule, insurance companies would provide the coverage free
of charge through separate, individual health insurance policies from
their employers' insurers or third-party administrators.
announcement reinforces our commitment to respect the concerns of
houses of worship and other non-profit religious organizations that
object to contraceptive coverage, while helping to ensure that women get
the care they need, regardless of where they work," Secretary of Health
and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.
rule, which goes into effect Aug. 1, follows months of protest and legal
action from groups representing Roman Catholics, Protestant
evangelicals and private employers who claim that the 2010 Affordable
Care Act forces them to violate religious beliefs that bar
Administration officials said that under the rule,
organizations will not have to "contract, arrange, pay for or refer
contraceptive coverage to which they object on religious grounds, but
such coverage is separately provided to women enrolled in their health
plans at no cost."
The 2010 Affordable Care Act requires all
health insurers to pay for a woman's contraceptive care without charging
her anything. Religious organizations such as the Catholic Church,
which oppose artificial birth control, have objected strongly. While
churches and other overtly religious organizations were always exempted,
things were less clear for religiously affiliated organizations, such
as universities, and private employers who said they had their own
personal conscientious objections.
More than 60 lawsuits have
challenged the original regulation, according to the Becket Fund for
Religious Liberty, which led the charge against what they claim is an
unconstitutional mandate. The new rule comes a day after a federal
appellate court in Denver ruled that one employer, arts and crafts chain
Hobby Lobby, may be exempt from the requirement that Obama has insisted
be made available for all employees with health insurance, particularly
women, whose contraceptive options can be expensive.
compromise, religious nonprofits must notify their insurance companies
that they object to birth control coverage. The insurer will then notify
the affected employees individually that it will provide coverage at no
Women's rights groups said the final rule achieves the broad goal of ensuring access to birth control.
general, they are upholding the principal of the Affordable Care Act
that almost all women will get the contraception that they need and the
employers won't be able to impose their religious views on the
employees," said Judy Waxman, vice president of health and reproduction
for the National Women's Law Center.