Last year, as part of implementation for the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration rolled out a rule on contraception that inspired a huge backlash from religious conservatives and began the “war on women” fight that extended through the presidential campaign. In short, Health and Human Services required all employers to include contraception in health insurance plans, without extra charge. Religious institutions could receive an exemption as long as they met particular requirements: Said organizations had to be nonprofits who mainly employed co-religionists, and had “the inculcation of religious values” as their primary purpose.
This definition precluded exemptions for certain religious charities—like Catholic hospitals—which prompted a variety of lawsuits, as well as a huge political spectacle that tarnished Republicans for the rest of the year.
But the Obama administration listened to complaints, and has adopted a new definition of “religious organization” that’s a little more expansive and provides a little more leeway for religious nonprofits. The new rules would include nonprofits that see themselves as religious in mission but aren’t houses of worship. If they specify opposition to to any contraceptive services—on account of religious objections—then they would be exempt from including contraception in their group health insurance plans.
Women who work for these nonprofits would still have access to contraception as part of their compensation—insurers would automatically enroll them in individual plans that cover contraceptive services.
This might not seem like a big change, but it already has the support of NARAL Pro-Choice America—who says it’s “optimistic these new draft regulations will make near-universal contraceptive coverage a reality”—and the conservative Catholic League.
All of this said, there’s one group that isn’t covered by this exemption, despite their vocal opposition to the rule—businesses whose CEOs personally oppose birth control. Sorry Hobby Lobby.
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