The Obama administration on Friday took the final step toward ensuring that women can keep their birth control coverage even if their employer refuses to provide it on religious grounds.
Final regulations released Friday allow women to receive contraceptive services without co-payments over the objections of their employer. The much-anticipated rules also expand the definition of businesses that can seek exemptions from the controversial ObamaCare mandate.
“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,” Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell wrote in a statement.
The contraceptive mandate is one of the most controversial pieces of ObamaCare, and has been at the set of multiple lawsuits, most notably Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.
The new HHS rules allow for-profit companies, like Hobby Lobby, to more easily opt out of the contraception mandate, immediately drawing criticism from Democrats.
“Today’s announcement allows a wide range of businesses power over the health care decisions of the women they employ, and shows once again why the Supreme Court’s deeply harmful ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is completely unacceptable,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) wrote in a statement.
The final rules are a mixed bag for reproductive health groups that have feared some women could lose access to birth control in light of last year’s Hobby Lobby decision, which said the rule forced corporations to violate the country’s religious freedom law.
“What this means for women is that you will be able to get birth control without a copay, no matter where you work,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, who has lobbied for the regulation.
It also reveals the administration’s effort to appease religious-affiliated groups that continue to wage legal battles against the mandate.
For-profit companies can now take a stand against the contraception rule for religious reasons if they are not publicly traded and are owned “by a relatively small number of individuals.”
That definition goes beyond the Supreme Court’s decision last year, which said that “closely held companies” should not be forced to comply with the rule against religious objections.
HHS said that it believes that definition will cover any for-profit companies that “are likely to have religious objections to providing contraceptive coverage.”
—This story was updated at 12:45 p.m.