Birth Control Coverage Guaranteed for All — Despite Religious Exemptions


Now free coverage of all forms of birth control is guaranteed for all women, no matter where they work.  (Photo: Getty Images)

A new rule issued by the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Friday affirmed that, even given the religious exemptions provided by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Burrell v. Hobby Lobby last year, all women will still be able to get coverage for all forms of birth control through the Affordable Care Act.

Under the new regulations, employers with moral objections to certain forms of contraception must tell their insurance company or the federal government. The insurance company will then need to take responsibility for providing coverage to all female employees — along with any female family members on the health insurance plans of their partners — who have requested it. This step ensures that women will have access to all forms of birth control at no cost, no matter where they work.

Because contraception is considered to be cost-neutral — i.e. the costs of providing contraceptive coverage are balanced by cost savings from lower pregnancy rates — there will be no additional costs imposed on an individual’s health insurance plan when it provides birth control without cost-sharing with the employer. 

For a company to receive a religious exemption from providing coverage for the methods of birth control outlined in last year’s Hobby Lobby case — that is, any form of birth control that prevents implantation, such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and the emergency morning-after pill — the new standard will be that it must be a for-profit company that’s not publicly traded, with 50 percent ownership by five or fewer individuals, and with members of a nuclear family all counting as one individual. Additionally, the company must produce a formal corporate statement that expresses its religious beliefs.

Per this new standard, all pending applications for religious exemption will be exempted.

The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), known colloquially as Obamacare, ensures that all health insurance coverage includes a certain set of preventive services, including all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for women with reproductive capacity, as prescribed by a health care provider (collectively, contraceptive services).

In the Hobby Lobby ruling, the court affirmed the right of an eligible organization to be exempt from contraceptive service coverage through religious exemption.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is the law under which the Supreme Court ruled that corporations such as Hobby Lobby have the right to freely practice their religion without “undue burden.” In Hobby Lobby’s case, the “undue burden” was paying for insurance coverage for two forms of the emergency morning-after pill and two kinds of IUD, because of the organization’s board of directors’ religious beliefs — they believe that birth control methods that may result in the destruction of a fertilized egg is equivalent to abortion.

Related: Satanists Are Fighting Restrictive Abortion Laws Via Religious Exemptions — Will Others Join Them?

Today’s new issuance by the Obama administration will guarantee that all women may still receive coverage for all forms of contraception through the Affordable Care Act.

The administration notes in the final rule that:

“The Departments believe that the definition adopted in these regulations complies with and goes beyond what is required by RFRA and Hobby Lobby. The Departments have extended the accommodations to the specified class of for-profit entities in order to provide additional protection to entities that may have religious objections to providing contraceptive coverage, and because the Departments believe that eligibility for the accommodations should be based on a rule that has origins in existing law.”

Related: Oregon First State to Cover 12 Months of Birth Control

In a statement, Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said, “What this means for women is that you will be able to get birth control without a copay, no matter where you work. Your boss shouldn’t decide whether or not your birth control is covered by insurance, and this guidance from the federal government will ensure women get birth control at no cost.

“While we are pleased that the Obama administration is ensuring that women will get to keep birth control coverage regardless of their employers’ personal beliefs, this accommodation shouldn’t be necessary in the first place. A private company shouldn’t be able to pick and choose what health care services they provide to their employees because they are women, LGBT, or any other class of people. The Supreme Court was wrong to allow companies to discriminate against their employees this way, and Congress needs to pass legislation to fix it.

“We’re already seeing enormous benefits from expanding access to birth control without a copay. We need to keep moving forward, not go backward. We’ll continue working to ensure that women have access to birth control at no cost — which is critical for expanding economic and educational opportunity for women.

“As the leading advocate for the one woman in five who has relied on Planned Parenthood at some point in her lifetime, we know how important it is to ensure all women can access birth control without cost barriers, as the law intended. And yet there are still politicians,  including GOP presidential candidates, that want to turn back the clock and take this important benefit away from women.”

Yahoo Health has reached out to Hobby Lobby for comment and will update this article with the company’s response.

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