White House Offers Religious Groups A Way Out On Contraception

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The Obama administration on Friday fleshed out its accommodation for religious groups that object to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employer insurance plans cover female contraception without cost.

It offered religious nonprofits a compromise between the mandate and the full exemption they demanded, and which churches are entitled to.

The proposed rule details a principle announced nearly a year ago that permits religious organizations like universities, charities, and hospitals to decline to pay for birth control coverage for their employees. If a group avails itself of that exemption, their insurance company would be required to provide the service to the organization’s employees for free.

The exemption, which is set to be finalized later this year, would be provided to any nonprofit that self-certifies it is a religious organization and notifies its insurer that it will not be providing contraceptive coverage, the Department of Health and Human Services said.

The regulation aims to provide a balance between women’s health and religious freedom, a matter of ongoing and heated debate across the country.

Religious nonprofits like the University of Notre Dame, which sued to block the contraception rule after the contours of the accommodation were announced last year, did not immediately comment on the proposed regulation.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which fueled a firestorm after the initial contraception rule was announced last year, also withheld comment, saying in a statement that it “welcome[s] the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely.”

The administration’s move drew praise from women’s groups.

“This policy delivers on the promise of women having access to birth control without co-pays no matter where they work,” said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, saying that “the principle is clear and consistent. This policy makes it clear that your boss does not get to decide whether you can have birth control.”

“Today’s draft regulation affirms yet again the Obama administration’s commitment to fulfilling the full promise of its historic contraception policy,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “Thanks to this commitment, most American women will get birth-control coverage without extra expense.”

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