New Obamacare contraception rule for religious groups in the works

Religious freedom supporters hold a rally to praise the Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby, contraception coverage requirement case on June 30, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.

Scott Olson, Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is developing a new way for religious nonprofits that object to paying for contraceptives in their health plans to opt out, without submitting a form they say violates their religious beliefs.

The government has been searching for solutions since the Supreme Court decided an evangelical college in Illinois can avoid filling out the form while the case is being appealed. That move undercut the accommodation the Obama administration had devised in hopes of resolving religious group's objections without shifting the cost for birth control to employees.

The document, known as Form 700, lets faith-affiliated groups transfer responsibility for paying for birth control to insurers or third-party administrators. The employer would not be responsible for arranging the coverage or paying for it, and insurers would be reimbursed by the government in the form of credits against fees they would owe under other portions of the health care law.

But Wheaton College objected to that system, arguing that just filling out the form makes the institution complicit by forcing it to participate in a system that subsidizes coverage they oppose.

Aiming to address that concern, the federal government will release new regulations within one month that establish an alternative way for religious groups to indicate their objection, without filling out the form, the administration said. Form 700 will remain an option for groups willing to use it.

The decision to allow the college to avoid filling out the form drew a fierce objection from the court's three female members, including Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote in her dissent that the order "evinces disregard for even the newest of this court's precedents and undermines confidence in this institution."

The order came just days the Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that businesses with religious objections to opt out of paying for birth control for women covered by their employee health plans could opt out.

Officials said they're still developing the alternative and couldn't provide any details about what it would entail, so it's unclear whether it will be any less objectionable to Wheaton and other faith-affiliated groups than the original Form 700. The administration said the new alternative won't involve shifting the costs to employees.