The Obama administration released final rules regarding birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act on Friday for companies in which the employers object to providing certain forms of contraception due to their religious beliefs.
Under the new rules, women in such companies who want to sign up for birth control coverage should contact the insurer separately, which will then provide the birth control coverage for them. The employers will not have to cover the costs for the birth control coverage, and the female employee will not have to spend money outside of insurance coverage to obtain contraceptive services.
Employers who want to opt out of covering contraceptives for employees must inform the federal government or their insurance company of their religious objections to the specific forms of birth control.
"Women across the country should have access to preventive services, including contraception," said Sylvia Burwell, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). "At the same time, we recognize the deeply held views on these issues, and we are committed to securing women's access to important preventive services at no additional cost under the Affordable Care Act, while respecting religious beliefs."
These new rules will apply to "closely held for-profit companies," which is defined as being privately held, and controlled by five people or less. The for-profit company's "highest governing body" must also adopt a resolution that states its religious objections to the specified forms of birth control. Exemptions for religious institutions--such as hospitals and schools--and non-profits were made in the existing contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act.
Debate on this issue was continuous over the past several years, and was highlighted by the recent Supreme Court case regarding the craft store Hobby Lobby, owned by a Christian family who opposed providing female employees certain forms of contraception due to their religious beliefs. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby in that case, stating that "the contraceptive mandate ... substantially burdened the exercise of religion by requiring the companies to choose between compromis[ing] their religious beliefs and paying a hevy fee ... if they simply refused to provide coverage for the contraceptives at issue."
Advocates of women's access to birth control services expressed dissatisfaction at the new rules.
"While the accommodation is given on the grounds of protecting religious freedom, what it really does is allow some employers to restrict their employees' access to basic healthcare," Clare Coleman, the president of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, told the New York Times.
Religious leaders have also shown opposition to the new rules, saying that "it still uses the insurance plan they set up to provide something they believe to be wrong," according to the Wall Street Journal.