Nonprofit employers that don't provide coverage for birth control in their health insurance plans because of religious beliefs soon will have to change their ways.
Such organizations have an additional year to comply with a new law requiring most health plans to cover birth control without charging copays or deductibles, federal officials announced.
U.S. Catholic bishops reacted angrily to the announcement.
"In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences," Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a press release.
The rule requires that sterilization and birth control be considered among preventive services that health insurance plans must fully cover starting Aug. 1 of this year, under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Nonprofits that don't offer birth control now because of religious beliefs will have until Aug. 1, 2013, to comply.
"The government should not force Americans to act as if pregnancy is a disease to be prevented at all costs," Dolan said.
The rule includes a narrow exemption for religious employers, namely churches. The exemption does not apply to all nonprofits that disagree with the law based on religious values. Religious employers are those whose purpose is to instill religious beliefs. They must also primarily serve and employ people who share the organization’s religious tenets.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a press statement that federal officials struck a balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive health care services.
"Scientists have abundant evidence that birth control has significant health benefits for women and their families," she said, adding that birth control "is documented to significantly reduce health costs, and is the most commonly taken drug in America by young and middle-aged women."