Religious organizations are suing the Obama administration over new regulations requiring insurers and employers to offer reproductive health care services — including contraception — without additional cost sharing. The rule, the result of a provision included in the Affordable Care Act, exempts houses of worship and other religious nonprofits that primarily employ and serve people of the same faith, but two religious colleges are already challenging the rule in court, arguing that the conscience protection is too narrow. The powerful Conference of Catholic Bishops is also preparing legal action. Women’s advocacy groups have enthusiastically backed the new requirement and Planned Parenthood has unveiled a new ad campaign touting the rule. The commercial, which will air in Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin, praises President Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for standing up to pressure from religious groups to widen the conscience protection and notes that doing so would have deprived hundreds of thousands of women working for religiously-affiliated groups of birth control. Watch the ad:
Religiously-affiliated employers who do not qualify for the exemption and are not currently offering contraceptive coverage may apply for transitional relief for a one-year period to give them time to determine how to comply with the rule, the Obama administration decided. Twenty-eight states already require employers, including most religiously affiliated institutions, to cover contraception in their health plans. The only change is that now they must cover the full cost. In fact, the administration will be expanding conscience protections in eight states, where all religious institutions are required to offer birth control coverage.