WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing a wave of lawsuits over what government can tell religious groups to do, the Obama administration on Friday proposed a compromise for faith-based nonprofits that object to covering birth control in their employee health plans.
Some of the lawsuits appear headed for the Supreme Court, threatening another divisive legal battle over President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law, which requires most employers to cover birth control free of charge to female workers as a preventive service. The law exempted churches and other houses of worship, but religious charities, universities, hospitals and even some for-profit businesses have objected.
More than 40 lawsuits have been filed by more than 130 religious nonprofits and secular for-profit businesses contending the mandate violates their religious beliefs. As expected, this latest compromise does not provide any accommodation for individual business owners who have religious objections to the rule.
The government’s new offer, in a proposed regulation, has two parts.
Administration officials said it would more simply define the religious organizations that are exempt from the requirement altogether. For example, a mosque whose food pantry serves the whole community would not have to comply.
For other religious employers, the proposal attempts to create a buffer between them and contraception coverage. Female employees would still have free access through insurers or a third party, but the employer would not have to arrange for the coverage or pay for it. Insurers would be reimbursed for any costs by a credit against fees owed the government.
The National Association of Evangelicals, which represents about 40 denominations and works with the administration on immigration and other issues, quickly rejected the rule. It said the change didn’t create enough of a buffer between faith groups and birth control coverage.
“The Obama administration should have done the right thing and dropped the contraception mandate, or at least should have exempted all religious organizations,” said Leith Anderson, the association’s president.
The latest version of the mandate is now subject to a 60-day public comment period. The overall mandate is to take effect for religious nonprofits in August.