The Obama administration released new regulations today clarifying which religious groups and organizations can opt out of providing birth control under the Affordable Care Act. It's a little complicated, but the good news is that it looks like the new rules should only affect insurers and third party administrators, not consumers who should still have unfettered access to their contraception of choice, regardless of whether their bosses are assholes.
In the rule published last year, "houses of worship" were exempted from covering contraception. Other religiously-affiliated non-profits, meanwhile, were given a one year "safe-harbor" from having to provide contraceptive coverage while HHS determined how to address the issue of making sure that women got contraceptive coverage and at the same time respected the religious beliefs of these employers. (ICYMI, we wrote a guide on how to score copay-free birth control last August, when the Affordable Care Act first kicked in.)
In response, more than 40 lawsuits were filed by employers who couldn't stand the thought of lady employees having access to reproductive healthcare, from a Christian publishing company to a secular for-profit Michigan company that sells outdoor power equipment. In many cases, they received temporary injunctions that allowed them to bar their employees from receiving copay-free contraception. Fuckers.
These new guidelines are likely meant to assuage religious employers and impede them from trying to block the law. Now, employees will be automatically enrolled in a separate individual health insurance policy without cost sharing or additional premiums. Sharon G. Levin, Director for Federal Reproductive Health Policies at the National Women's Law Center, told us that the plan should work like vision care works now –- a separate plan with a separate card -– meaning that it won't be an alien concept to most. "The goal of the proposed rule is to make sure that women seamless access to the affordable and comprehensive contraceptive coverage guaranteed by the ACA," she clarified.
Some advocates voiced trepidation regarding the new rules. "The Obama Administration has once again made it clear that it is committed to advancing women's health by making copay-free contraception a reality for millions of women in the United States," Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. "However, we continue to believe that contraception should not be separated from the rest of women's health insurance coverage." Both CRR and NWLC said they would be reviewing the proposed rule and monitoring its implementation to make sure that it didn't negatively affect American women. (And their families/the economy/everyone, because reproductive choice is not just a women's issue. but we digress.)
Religious zealots still aren't fans, of course, because they won't be happy with any compromise that doesn't prevent women from getting their contraceptive needs covered by the government, no matter how many studies link access to free birth control with lower rates of abortions and teen births or show how contraception has a massive impact on women's lives by allowing them to take better care of themselves and their families, support themselves financially, complete their education, and stay gainfully employed.
"Today's proposed rule does nothing to protect the religious liberty of millions of Americans," said Kyle Duncan of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which supports employers who have fought the mandate in court. "The rights of family businesses like Hobby Lobby are still being violated." Oh, shut it.