Obama administration offers religious colleges opt-out for contraception rule

Liz Goodwin
The Ticket

Religious universities and other nonprofits may opt out of requirements to provide no-cost contraception through their group health plans following a change announced Friday to President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Nonprofits will not have to "contract, arrange, pay or refer for any contraceptive coverage to which they object on religious grounds," the Department of Health and Human Services announced today in the proposed rule.

At nonprofits that are self-insured, third-party administrators would independently contact all the insured people and offer them no-cost contraception. Those third parties would be compensated for providing the contraception through lower participation fees in the federal health insurance exchanges, which are supposed to be running in all states by 2014 under the new law. At nonprofits that contract an insurer to cover their employees, that insurer will pay for the contraception itself on the assumption that providing contraception will save them money in the long run.

Evangelical and Catholic universities have filed dozens of suits against the contraception requirement in recent months, arguing that it violates their religious freedom.

Attorney Kyle Duncan of the Becket Fund For Religious Liberty, a legal defense group spearheading many of the suits, said in a statement that the new rule does not satisfy his clients. "Today's proposed rule does nothing to protect the religious liberty of millions of Americans," Duncan said.

In February 2012, the administration announced "accommodations" for religious institutions following a backlash from many Catholics and others. The change allowed women to obtain free contraception, but required them to obtain it directly from their insurance companies if their employer objected to birth control because of religious beliefs. That did not answer the question of what women employed by self-insured religious universities would do, however.

The new rule does not address the lawsuits filed by several private companies, such as Hobby Lobby, whose owners argue they should not be required to provide contraception in their plans because of their personal religious beliefs.

Churches and religious orders are not required to comply with the mandate.