By Hugo Gye Last updated at 5:01 AM on 21st January 2012
Employers will be forced to offer free contraception in their healthcare plans, it was announced yesterday.
Religious organisations had been pushing for exemption from the ruling, but the Obama administration has said they will be allowed just a one-year delay in implementing the policy.
The vast majority of healthcare plans will have to offer birth control without any co-pays or deductibles from the beginning of August.
Republicans in Congress argued that the administration’s ‘unbending’ refusal to make an exception for religious groups would undermine freedom of worship.
But reproductive-rights activists hailed the decision as ‘common sense’ which would uphold employees’ access to ‘basic health care’.
The decision was announced by Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who said she had considered ‘the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty’, according to The Hill.
She added: ‘I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.’
Churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship are exempted from the requirement, but other religious bodies – such a universities, hospitals and charities – will have to offer free contraception from August 2013.
‘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.
The GOP leadership also criticised the government’s ‘unbending approach to appease its liberal base’.
The ‘Obamacare’ health reforms are designed to make insurers offer preventive measures such as contraception free, on the grounds that that will save on the future costs of treating illness.
Although most insurance plans already include contraception, some religious groups say they would rather shut down than offer birth control.
Nashville’s Dominican congregation told The Hill: ‘What war and disease could not do to the congregation, the government of the United States will do – it will shut them down.’
The president of Planned Parenthood welcomed the ruling, saying: ‘Birth control is not just basic health care for women, it is an economic concern.
‘This common sense decision means that millions of women, who would otherwise pay $15 to $50 a month, will have access to affordable birth control, helping them save hundreds of dollars each year.’