Obama tweaks birth control mandate to accommodate religious groups

Updated
President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama
Carolyn Kaster/AP, file

Friday morning, the White House announced new details that will allow religiously-affiliated institutions exemption from the contraception coverage mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

The announcement from the Department of Health and Human Services comes after months of push back and dozens of lawsuits from religious groups that complained the requirement to provide all employees with contraception violated their first amendment rights by forcing them to go against their religion.

Under the updated rules, organizations must prove they are non-profits with religion as a core part of their mission. Those who qualify for the exemption can then instruct a “third-party administrator” to provide separate health individual policies for contraception coverage for individuals. This third party group works directly with each employee, allowing the religious employers to avoid paying for the objectionable services.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has been a strong critic of the mandate, was reserved in its initial response:

“Today, the Administration issued proposed regulations regarding the HHS mandate,” Archbishop Timothy Dolan said in a statement. “We welcome the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely. We look forward to issuing a more detailed statement later.”

The pro-life Susan B. Anthony list blasted the update, releasing a statement complaining about what they interpret as a “religious test” for those seeking exemption. According to a statement, the group believes, “Only complete repeal is acceptable.”

The left-leaning nonprofit Catholics United praised the announcement.

“This is a victory not only for the Obama Administration, but for the Catholic Church,” said James Salt, executive director of Catholics United. “As Catholics United said from the very beginning, reasonable people knew it was right to be patient and hopeful that all sides could come together to solve this complex issue. The White House deserves praise in alleviating the Church’s concerns.”

Women’s health groups were largely pleased with the new regulations.

“This policy delivers on the promise of women having access to birth control without co-pays no matter where they work,” Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “Of course, we are reviewing the technical aspects of this proposal, but 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.”

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

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Obama tweaks birth control mandate to accommodate religious groups

Updated