WASHINGTON – Despite strong resistance from religious organizations, the Obama administration said Friday that it was moving ahead with a rule requiring most employers to provide free insurance coverage of contraceptives for women, a decision that has touched off a legal and political battle likely to rage for another year.
The final rule, issued under the new health care law, adopts a simplified version of an approach proposed by the government in February to balance the interests of women with the concerns of the Roman Catholic Church and other employers with religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptives.
After considering more than 400,000 comments, administration officials refused to budge on the basic principle. The rule, they said, is very similar to their February proposal. An exemption is included for churches, but many Catholic hospitals, schools, universities and other religious institutions will have to take steps to give employees and their dependents access to contraceptives without any premium, deductible, co-payment or other fees.
"Today's announcement reinforces our commitment to respect the concerns of houses of worship and other nonprofit religious organizations that object to contraceptive coverage, while helping to ensure that women get the care they need, regardless of where they work," said Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services.
Republicans say the requirement shows how intrusive and onerous the law is. Eric C. Rassbach of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has represented plaintiffs challenging the law, said the final rule did nothing to meet his clients' objections. "So there is a fundamental conflict that will have to be resolved in court," he said.
On Thursday, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the owners of the Hobby Lobby craft-store chain could pursue their case against the rule. On Friday, an Oklahoma court granted Hobby Lobby a temporary injunction against full enforcement of the law.