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Simpler contraceptive rules issued

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration issued a final rule Friday requiring many employers and health insurance plans to provide free coverage of contraceptives for women, a policy that has been challenged in numerous suits.

The rule, which is unlikely to placate critics, adopts a simplified version of an approach proposed this year to balance the interests of women with the concerns of the Roman Catholic Church and certain other employers that have religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptives.

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“The health care law guarantees millions of women access to recommended preventive services at no cost,” said Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services. “Today’s announcement reinforces our commitment to respect the concerns of houses of worship and other nonprofit religious organizations that object to contraceptive coverage, while helping to ensure that women get the care they need, regardless of where they work.”

Under the rule issued Friday, the government said that certain “religious employers” — primarily houses of worship — may exclude contraceptive coverage from their health plans for employees and their dependents. In effect, they will be exempt from the federal requirement to provide contraceptive coverage.

The rule also lays out what the administration describes as an accommodation for other nonprofit religious and church-affiliated organizations that object to contraceptive coverage, like hospitals and institutions of higher education.

Under the rule, these organizations will not have to contract, arrange, or pay for contraceptive coverage to which they object on religious grounds. Instead, the administration said, such coverage will be “separately provided to women enrolled in their health plans at no cost.”

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