January 21, 2012
Some Faith-Based Employers Must Cover Birth Control Starting In 2013
Religiously-affiliated hospitals, universities, and other nonprofit organizations will have to pay for the birth-control coverage of their female employees, but they will be given an extra year to comply with the mandate, the Obama administration has ruled.
According to Reuters, the decision, which was announced Friday by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, will not apply directly to churches, synagogues, mosques, temples or similar places of worship. Nor will it apply to some religiously-affiliated elementary and secondary schools, they added.
Nonetheless, Sebelius' ruling, which applied to services ranging from implanted contraceptives to the morning-after pill, is "expected to draw opposition from religious conservatives" and "comes as a blow to the interests of some religious authorities" who were seeking an expansion of exemptions for faith-based reasons, the news organization also reported.
"I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services," Sebelius said in a statement, according to the Associated Press (AP).
"Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience," New York Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), countered, according to the AP. "This shouldn't happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights."
According to N.C. Aizenman of the Washington Post, Dolan and the USCCB had requested a permanent exemption for any employer that opposes birth control for religious reasons.
The AP reports that President Obama personally informed Dolan of the decision.
Washington Senator Patty Murray said that Obama "made the right decision by putting access and the reproductive rights of women first," while NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan added that as a result of Friday's decision, "millions will get access to contraception, and they will not have to ask their bosses for permission."
The rule will require most employers to provide birth-control coverage at no cost starting on August 1, 2012, though the faith-based groups will have until August 1, 2013 to comply with the Health Department mandate.
"It is unclear how many women will be affected by the delay," Aizenman wrote on Friday. "National estimates of the number of workers employed by church-affiliated institutions are rough, ranging from 1 million to 2 million. It is also not known how many of these individuals and their dependents get health insurance through such employers, and if so, whether those plans already include birth control coverage."
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