Beginning today, women’s rights groups – including the Feminist Majority Foundation, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Council of Jewish Women, and others – have launched a campaign and blog carnival to support the Obama Administration’s decision to maintain full contraceptive coverage under the Preventive Care package of the Affordable Care Act. The administration has been under enormous pressure from the Catholic bishops to broaden the religious exemption. The campaign, which will include a blog carnival this week and other actions, aims to correct misinformation generated by negative newspaper editorials and other media outlets.

The request to broaden the religious exemption, primarily pressed by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, would have denied millions of American women contraceptive coverage, including students, teachers, nurses, social workers, and other staff (and their families) at religiously-connected or affiliated schools, universities, and hospitals, as well as social service institutions like Catholic Charities.

Employer insurance plans must not discriminate against women in health care, and must cover FDA approved birth control with no co-pays or deductibles starting in August 2012. Non-profit religious institutions’ employer plans that do not currently cover contraception will have an additional year to comply. Those institutions that currently cover birth control in their health insurance plan, however, must offer it without copays or deductibles by August 2012. Moreover, student insurance plans at religiously affiliated universities must cover contraception with no co-pays or deductibles beginning August 2012. Only employees who work directly for a house of worship or church hierarchy, such as for a church, diocese, synagogue, or mosque itself, are exempted from this required coverage.

In August 2011, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced new guidelines, developed by the Institute of Medicine, that will require private insurance plans under the Preventive Care package of the Affordable Care Act beginning on or after August 1, 2012 to cover without co-pays or deductibles a variety of services, such as an annual well-woman visit and cancer screenings, counseling, such as for domestic and interpersonal violence, and testing for HIV and STIs, as well as all FDA-approved contraceptives, breastfeeding support, lactation services, and supplies.