Sebelius Upholds Obamacare Rule that Religious Institutions Must Cover Birth Control

By Pete Winn | January 20, 2012 | 4:52 PM EST

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) -- The Obama administration on Friday refused to change an Obamacare rule that will require religious universities and hospitals to pay for birth control or contraceptive drugs — including those that could cause an abortion -- for their women employees.

“This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.

Under the rule, set forth by the Affordable Care Act, most women employed in the U.S. will have the cost of their birth control covered with no co-pay.

However,  the administration did delay the effective date of the rule by one year.

“This proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services,” Sebelius said in a statement.

The rule is currently the subject of two lawsuits -- one filed on behalf of Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, and the other  filed last month on behalf of Colorado Christian University in suburban Denver. Both suits claim the regulation violates their right not to go against their own conscience.

“This is a shameless attempt to kick the can down the road in an election year,” says Hannah Smith, senior legal counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing both colleges.

“Religious colleges, universities, and hospitals will never pay for abortion drugs in violation of their religious beliefs -- this year or any other year.”

The announcement comes just one week after the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision involving the right of churches to select their religious leaders.

In EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor, the Court unanimously rejected the Obama administration’s position that the government had the right to to decide whom churches could employ as a minister.

“The administration has seen the writing on the wall,” Smith said. “They know that this mandate cannot survive constitutional scrutiny any more than their ‘extreme’ position in Hosanna-Tabor did. So the administration is trying to delay the inevitable judgment day.”

Churches and other places of worship are exempt from having to cover contraception for their employees, if they morally object to the practice.