Government readies new contraceptives language

WASHINGTON Fri Mar 16, 2012 3:48pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Friday is expected to propose official language laying out its plan to accommodate the moral concerns of religiously affiliated institutions that oppose birth control, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The announcement of a new "Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking" would not alter President Barack Obama's adopted policy requiring access to free employer-sponsored health insurance coverage for women's contraceptives, the sources said.

But it is expected to outline proposed regulatory language and provide analysis for public comment covering religious institutions that self-insure and other aspects of the accommodation that the White House announced on February 10, according to the sources.

The administration last month adopted a new rule under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that requires employers to provide coverage with free birth control for women.

Churches and other places of worship are exempt. But the rule currently on the books applies to religiously affiliated hospitals, universities, charities and other institutions.

The policy set off a firestorm among Catholic authorities and other social conservatives, which Obama sought to quell by promising changes that would place the onus of paying for contraceptives coverage on insurers instead of religiously affiliated employers.

Administration officials have said for some time they expected to propose regulatory language articulating the president's compromise.

One source said the issue of self-insured religious institutions was one of the key questions that needed to be addressed.

Word of Friday's expected announcement followed weeks of behind-the-scenes meetings between administration officials and a range of stakeholders including Roman Catholic bishops, who oppose artificial contraception and want the current policy rescinded.

The announcement is likely to be followed by a period of public comment.

The administration's current policy does not come into force for religious employers until August 1, 2013.

(Additional reporting by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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