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Obama Administration to Issue New Rules for Religious Accommodation to Birth Control Benefit

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The deadline of August 22 was announced in a status report filed by the administration with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

The Obama administration announced it plans to issue new interim rules to accommodate those religious nonprofits that object to complying with the birth control benefit under the Affordable Care Act by August 22.

The statement was part of a status report filed by the administration with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in connection with a handful of legal challenges by religiously affiliated nonprofits like Little Sisters of the Poor currently before the federal appeals court. The administration told the appeals court it was issuing the new rules in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s order in the Wheaton College case, which held the evangelical Christian college out of Illinois did not have to complete the paperwork required to qualify for the accommodation because filling out the paperwork substantially burdened the college’s religious beliefs. The Wheaton College order came just after the Roberts Court ruled closely held for-profit companies could object to the contraception benefit on religious grounds as well, relying in part on the existence of the nonprofit accommodation to support its conclusion the Obama administration had other less restrictive means of providing contraceptive coverage for workers.

In its status report, the Obama administration suggested that whether or not the legal challenges continue after the new rules are announced will be entirely up to the plaintiffs, and asked they notify the court by September 2 of their intentions to either continue or drop their challenges.

Meanwhile, a different federal appeals court ruled that Fresh Unlimited Inc., the parent company of the secular for-profit Freshway Foods, won’t have to provide contraception coverage for its employees. The one-page order in the Gilardi v. the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services case is believed to be the first to apply the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. The order sends the case back to the district court, according to news reports, with instructions to issue an order that grants an exemption and to consider whether to extend it to the Gilardis individually.

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