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updated: 2/1/2013 11:17 AM

Obama offers faith groups new birth control rule

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Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration on Friday announced a new accommodation for religious nonprofits that object to providing health insurance that covers birth control.

The new regulation attempts to create a barrier between religious groups and contraception coverage, through insurers or a third party, that would still give women free access to contraception. Whether religious groups will accept this new approach depends in part on the technical details of how it's paid for.

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The new health care law requires most employers, including faith-affiliated hospitals and nonprofits, to provide health insurance that includes artificial contraception, including sterilization, as a free preventive service. The goal, in part, is to help women space out pregnancies to promote health.

Religious groups which primarily employ and serve people of their own faith -- such as churches -- were exempt. But other religiously affiliated groups, such as church-affiliated universities and Catholic Charities, were told they had to comply.

Roman Catholic bishops, evangelicals and some religious leaders who have generally been supportive of President Barack Obama's policies lobbied fiercely for a broader exemption. The Catholic Church prohibits the use of artificial contraception. Evangelicals generally permit the use of birth control, but some object to specific methods such as the morning-after contraceptive pill, which they argue is tantamount to abortion.

Obama had promised to change the birth control requirement so insurance companies -- and not faith-affiliated employers -- would pay for the coverage, but religious leaders said more changes were needed to make the plan work.

Since then, more than 40 lawsuits have been filed by religious nonprofits and secular for-profit businesses claiming the mandate violates their religious beliefs. As expected, this latest regulation does not provide any accommodation for individual business owners who have religious objections to the rule.

The latest version of the mandate is now subject to a 60-day public comment period. The mandate takes effect for religious nonprofits in August.

Policy analyst Sarah Lipton-Lubet of the American Civil Liberties Union said the group was assessing details of the proposal, but that it appeared to meet the ACLU's goal of providing "seamless coverage" of birth control for the affected women.

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