Obama Administration Changing Birth Control Mandate Exemption After Court Loss

Font Size:

The Obama administration will release a revamped religious exemption for Obamacare’s mandate to provide contraceptives to employees at no cost, senior officials said Tuesday evening.

The administration filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver Tuesday that announced its plan to create a new exemption.

The change comes after the Supreme Court’s several hits against the birth control mandate and the administration’s work-around for religious nonprofits. The court granted an injunction at the beginning of the month to Wheaton College, a small Christian university in Illinois, clearing it from the administration’s work-around until the pending case against the mandate is concluded. (RELATED: Supreme Court Grants Christian College Injunction Over Obamacare Religious Exemption)

The White House currently requires religious nonprofit employers to sign a federal form to signify their moral objection, which notifies the insurer that it, instead, must provide birth control coverage at no cost to the employee.

Wheaton is one of many religious organizations — including a women’s Catholic religious order, the Little Sisters of the Poor — suing over the exemption, which the college believes violates its religious freedom by forcing it to sign the form, making it complicit in providing contraceptives that violate its religious beliefs.

The Supreme Court said Wheaton was required only to file a letter with the federal government stating its objections instead of filling out the federal form.

In response, the Obama administration is preemptively attempting to change the way its religious exemption functions. It hopes to have a new plan within a month.

“This is part of ensuring that all women have access to contraception coverage,” a senior administration official said in a statement to the press. “The administration believes the accommodation is legally sound, but in light of the Supreme Court order regarding Wheaton College, the Departments intend to augment their regulations to provide an alternative way for objecting non-profit religious organizations to provide notification, while ensuring that enrollees in plans of such organizations receive separate coverage of contraceptive services without cost sharing.”

The Wheaton decision was a surprise to some after the Supreme Court also ruled the requirement for closely held businesses to provide all 20 types of contraceptive coverage to employees violated Congress’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the closely-watched Hobby Lobby lawsuit.

Some — most notably Justice Sonia Sotomayor — believed the majority opinion in the Hobby Lobby case buffeted the religious exemption because it cited the workaround as an option that burdened religious employers less than the mandate itself. Sotomayor issued a lengthy dissenting opinion to the injunction for Wheaton in response, signaling that the mandate’s religious exemption may not survive future court battles either.

Follow Sarah on Twitter