Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius defended the Obama administration’s controversial new rule requiring religious employers to cover birth control in employee health plans, arguing the rule respects those with "deeply held beliefs opposing the use of birth control."
The rule has come under intense fire from religious groups, who argue it is a violation of their First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
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"We specifically carved out from the policy religious organizations that primarily employ people of their own faith. This exemption includes churches and other houses of worship and could also include other church-affiliated organizations," wrote Sebelius in an op-ed in USA Today.
The policy put forward by the Obama administration exempts Catholic churches but doesn’t carve out other religious institutions such as Catholic hospitals and universities.
Sebelius stressed that 28 states already require contraception to be covered by insurance, a point that Obama administration has been making in recent days to defend their policy.
Sebelius also noted that the rule continues to protect "conscience protections" that allow doctors to decline to provide prescriptions for contraception.
"It’s important to note that our rule has no effect on the longstanding conscience clause protections for providers, which allow a Catholic doctor, for example, to refuse to write a prescription for contraception. Nor does it affect an individual woman’s freedom to decide not to use birth control. And the president and this administration continue to support existing conscience protections," the HHS secretary wrote.