Obama Administration Offers Religious Groups Compromise on Contraception Coverage

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The Obama administration, trying to address the moral objections of some groups, is proposing to allow religious institutions to opt out of the requirement under the health care law that they provide insurance that covers birth control.

"Today, the administration is taking the next step in providing women across the nation with coverage of recommended preventive care at no cost, while respecting religious concerns," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a written statement. "We will continue to work with faith-based organizations, women's organizations, insurers and others to achieve these goals."

The new proposal would allow religious groups that oppose providing health insurance that covers birth control to work with a "third-party administrator" that would give women access to free contraceptive coverage.

The compromise comes after religious groups and private employers filed dozens of lawsuits against the administration saying the provision requiring employers to cover birth control violated their religious beliefs.

The Affordable Care Act, when passed, required companies, including religiously-affiliated hospitals and nonprofit groups, to provide contraceptive coverage.

Religious employers, including churches and groups that serve or employ people of their own faith, are exempt from the rule. But many religious institutions, including church-affiliated universities and charities, do not meet that criteria.

The rule sparked a political firestorm last year over religious liberty and contraception. In an attempt to quell the uproar, the administration announced last February it would provide an "accommodation" for groups with religious objections.

Catholics United welcomed today's proposed change as a "victory not only for the Obama administration, but for the Catholic Church."

Planned Parenthood praised the compromise, saying it "delivers on the promise of women having access to birth control without co-pays no matter where they work."

The administration's new proposal is now open to public comment for 60 days.