The Obama administration is proposing a workaround to provide contraceptive coverage to employees of closely held companies that object on religious grounds. Whether this latest compromise will defuse the controversy that has yielded dozens of lawsuits challenging the administration's policies on the coverage remains to be seen.
A public interest law firm representing several religious objectors to the mandate characterized the new proposal as part of a “long retreat” by the administration on the issue.
Under a proposed rule issued Friday, HHS would give such companies the same accommodation extended to religious charities that raise objections.
The change comes in response to the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in June in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case that the government cannot require companies to provide the coverage if they have a religious objection.
The Obama administration is also tweaking its proposal for providing coverage to employees of not-for-profit religious charities that balk at paying for birth control. Previously, the administration said religious charities could notify their insurer that they don't want to pay for such coverage, and the insurer would instead pick up the tab. Now, the Obama administration is proposing that they simply notify HHS of their objection.
Religious charities had objected to the previous proposal, arguing that it still makes them complicit in providing contraceptive coverage. The Obama administration's approach has been challenged in dozens of court cases, including one brought by Wheaton College, a Christian school in Illinois. Last month, the Supreme Court granted a preliminary injunction prohibiting the enforcement of the provision.