Obama to adjust birth control rule for religious groups

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Faced with fierce opposition from religious organizations, the Obama administration will make changes to its new rule requiring employers to offer free contraceptive coverage in their healthcare plans, senior administration officials said Friday morning.

The changes will allow more religiously affiliated groups to opt out of the mandate. Employees at Catholic and other religious hospitals, charities and universities would have access to free birth control through their insurance companies, under the change the president signed off on Friday.

One official described the change as an “accommodation” to religious concerns rather than a “compromise” with the bishops, who oppose contraception as a matter of church doctrine.


The change was quickly endorsed by the Catholic Health Assn., a group that gave crucial support to the president’s healthcare law but had sharply criticized the birth control rule.

“The framework developed has responded to the issues we identified that needed to be fixed,” CHA president Sister Carol Keehan said in a statement. “We are pleased and grateful that the religious liberty and conscience protection needs of so many ministries that serve our country were appreciated enough that an early resolution of this issue was accomplished.”

It comes on the heels of a rough week for President Obama, in which even some Democratic allies were standing up publicly along with church leaders to raise objections. The furious debate dominated news coverage at a time when Obama is preparing to unveil his budget and hopes to focus attention on his broader economic plans.

In advance of delivering planned remarks on the subject over the noon hour, President Obama briefed the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan.

The change essentially shifts the responsibility for providing and discussing contraception from the religious employer to the insurers. Any employer who has a religious objections to providing contraception will not have to provide that service to employees, but in those cases the insurer will be required to reach out directly to the employee and offer contraceptive care free of charge.

Policy experts within the administration believe that there is effectively no cost to providing contraception, because use of it prevents much more expensive care they would otherwise have to provide.