Facing a wave of lawsuits over what government can tell religious groups to do, the Obama administration on Friday proposed a compromise for faith-based nonprofits that object to covering birth control in their employee health plans.
Some of the lawsuits appear headed for the Supreme Court, threatening another divisive legal battle over President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law, which requires most employers to cover birth control free of charge to female workers as a preventive service. The law exempted churches and other houses of worship, but religious charities, universities, hospitals and even some for-profit businesses have objected.
The government's new offer, in a proposed regulation, has two parts.
Administration officials said it would more simply define the religious organizations that are exempt from the requirement altogether. For example, a mosque whose food pantry serves the whole community would not have to comply.
For other religious employers, the proposal attempts to create a buffer between them and contraception coverage. Female employees would still have free access through insurers or a third party, but the employer would not have to arrange for the coverage or pay for it. Insurers would be reimbursed for any costs by a credit against fees owed the government.