(Adds reaction, including quotes from Planned Parenthood and
the Catholic bishops in paragraphs 8 and 10, details on legal
challenges after paragraph 11)
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON, June 28 The Obama administration on
Friday made it final that employees of religiously affiliated,
nonprofit institutions would receive insurance coverage for
birth control amid mounting legal challenges to a rule in the
recent healthcare law.
The White House proposed in early 2012 an arrangement that
allows universities, hospitals and other employers with a
religious affiliation to avoid paying directly for
contraceptives. Instead, insurance companies provide coverage
and foot the bill under the law.
The rule requires an institution's health insurer or
third-party insurance administrator to notify employees about
birth control benefits and provide beneficiaries with direct
payments that cover the cost of contraceptive services.
The announcement was made by the U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services. It puts into effect a requirement that has
been beset by more than a year of talks between administration
officials and religious employers.
The U.S. Roman Catholic bishops and other denominations
oppose contraception on religious grounds and have protested
against the requirement as have conservatives.
"Today's announcement reinforces our commitment to respect
the concerns of houses of worship and other non-profit religious
organizations that object to contraceptive coverage, while
helping to ensure that women get the care they need, regardless
of where they work," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a
The rule formally takes effect on August 1. Thanks But the
administration gave nonprofit employers an additional five
months to adjust to the new regulations by having it apply to
plan years beginning on or after Jan. 1. Other employers have
been required to make contraceptives coverage available to their
workers since last August.
Women's advocates applauded the regulations as a milestone
that could have profound impact on the education and economic
opportunities of women including college students.
"Birth control is basic healthcare for women, and this
policy treats it like any other kind of preventive care,"
Planned Parenthood President Cecile Roberts said in a statement.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has
spearheaded opposition to the policy, responded to the ruling.
"We have received and started to review the 110-page final
rule," New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said in a statement. "It
will require more careful analysis. We will provide a fuller
statement when that analysis is complete."
LEGAL FIGHT EXPANDS
Opponents say the policy, part of President Barack Obama's
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, violates religious
tenets of nonprofit and for-profit employers alike, particularly
coverage for the morning-after pill to stop pregnancy and other
types of contraceptives, which they view as tantamount to
Employers have had legal successes, raising speculation that
the lawfulness of the rule may eventually be tested by the U.S.
More than 60 lawsuits have been filed by religious
organizations and businesses against the requirement, and courts
have granted some 20 for-profit businesses temporary relief from
the law while their cases proceed in court.
Earlier this month, a federal judge in Pennsylvania granted
the same relief to a religiously affiliated nonprofit for the
first time in the case of Geneva College, which was established
by the Reform Presbyterian Church.
Friday's regulations came a day after a federal appeals
court in Denver ruled that Hobby Lobby, family-owned arts and
crafts chain may be exempt from offering contraceptive benefits
to its 13,000 full-time employees.
Hobby Lobby's lawyer, Kyle Duncan of the Becket Fund, said
his organization filed an emergency request late Thursday asking
the district court to take immediate action on the company's
request for an exemption from the mandate. On Friday, the
retailer was excused by a federal judge from paying up to $1.3
million a day in fines for not providing coverage.
(Additional reporting by Terry Baynes in New York; Editing by
Michele Gershberg, Vicki Allen and Kenneth Barry)