On Friday, the Obama administration announced new rules that seek to eliminate any confusion over which organizations with religious objections will be exempt from having to cover contraception costs for their employees.
According to the Huffington Post, employers with religious objections will have to self-certify that they are non-profits with religion as a core part of their mission.
Reportedly faced with nearly 50 lawsuits by employers with religious objections, the administration plans to clarify which employers will be exempt from having to cover contraception costs for their employees.
Catholic and other religiously affiliated organizations that choose to insure themselves would instruct their third-party administrator to provide contraception coverage through separate individual health insurance policies, so that they do not have to pay for services to which they morally object.
'Today, the administration is taking the next step in providing women across the nation with coverage of recommended preventive care at no cost, while respecting religious concerns,' said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. 'We will continue to work with faith-based organizations, women’s organizations, insurers and others to achieve these goals.'
Referred to as the 'contraception mandate' by some critics, it is part of the larger health care effort that went into effect on August 1, 2012. The new rules require that most employers cover birth control requests for their female employees at no additional cost.
Houses of worship are exempt from the rule. Religiously affiliated organizations that are not churches, such as schools and hospitals, are allowed to opt out of directly paying for contraception coverage. In those cases the cost of coverage would be transferred to the insurer.
The administrations accommodation for religious organizations did not satisfy all of them, however. Some for-profit companies that are not religiously affiliated, including the Christian-owned Hobby Lobby, have reportedly sued the administration on the grounds that they are being denied their religious freedom by having to cover services to which they morally object.
Some non-profit religious organizations that self-insure, such as Catholic schools and dioceses, have also filed lawsuits against the contraception mandate, arguing that the administrations accommodation does not apply to them because there is no third-party insurer to absorb the cost of coverage.
But the courts have largely dismissed those cases because non-profits with religious objections were given a one-year grace period to comply with the birth control coverage rule.
Reproductive rights advocates told the Huffington Post on Friday that they are still pleased with the details of the contraception rule. 'We look forward to examining and commenting on the proposed rule and helping ensure that, when it is implemented, the women who are affected will have simple and seamless access to contraceptive coverage without co-pays or added costs,' said Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families. 'It’s time for opponents of women’s reproductive choice to stop politicizing women’s health.'
The U.S. Catholic Church have not yet responded to the changes.
'We welcome the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely. We look forward to issuing a more detailed statement later,' said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Dolan's archdiocese is one of many dioceses that have sued the administration over the changes.
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