Most healthcare plans will be required to cover birth control without charging co-pays or deductibles starting Aug. 1, the Obama administration announced Friday.
The final regulation retains the approach federal health officials proposed last summer, despite the deluge of complaints from religious groups and congressional Republicans that has poured in since then. Churches, synagogues and other houses of worship are exempt from the requirement, but religious-affiliated hospitals and universities only get a one-year delay and must comply by Aug. 1, 2013.
“This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. “I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.”
Congressional Republicans slammed the decision as an assault on religious freedom.
“This ruling forces religious organizations to violate the fundamental tenets of their faith, or stop offering health insurance coverage to their employees,” said the Republican Policy Committee. “Time will tell whether those institutions choose the former or the latter course — but neither option should be necessary, if the administration had not taken such an unbending approach to appease its liberal base.”