Some U.S. companies will be able to claim religious objections to avoid covering birth control for their employees, under rules finalized Friday in the wake of a Supreme Court decision last year.
The rules, which build on a case tied to the Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. chain, say the boards of closely held firms would need to adopt a resolution stating their objection to contraception in order to qualify. The rules also include a way for women employed by those firms to obtain birth control coverage, the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement Friday.
The rules set out a definition of closely held firms based on current tax law, the department said. Such companies can’t have traded stock, and need to be majority owned by five or fewer people, the government said.
“Women across the country should have access to preventive services, including contraception,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell said in the statement. “At the same time, we recognize the deeply held views on these issues, and we are committed to securing women’s access to important preventive services at no additional cost under the Affordable Care Act, while respecting religious beliefs.”
It has taken the Obama administration more than a year to finalize the regulations since the court ruled 5-4 last year that closely held companies could refuse coverage on religious grounds. Hobby Lobby and other companies that supported the suit argued that they found some forms of birth control immoral.
Women who work at companies that elect not to cover birth control will still be able to get the services. If a company tells the U.S. it won’t cover birth control, the government will instruct the company’s insurer to provide the services. The rule circumvents the company’s direct involvement and won’t carry an additional cost for the employee.
“What this means for women is that you will be able to get birth control without a copay, no matter where you work,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement Friday. Planned Parenthood in an activist group that lobbies for access to women’s health services.