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THE Affordable Care Act requires health-insurance plans to provide women free access to birth-control benefits and contraceptives. Good public policy, but one element is still a work in progress.

For the third time in a little over a year, the Obama administration has modified language in the act to protect religious organizations that object to providing contraception coverage.

Last Friday, the administration announced that churches and other religious organizations would not have to provide or pay for coverage of contraceptive services. The revision also covers nonprofit religious organizations — such as universities, charities and hospitals — with religious objections.

Instead the coverage would be offered free via insurance carriers.

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The argument is their costs would be held neutral because of lower overall health costs without paying for maternity expenses.

The new language offers specific exemptions for churches, religious groups and religious affiliations that provide social services.

The debate has no end in sight, because others want an exemption for secular employers who have private religious objections. The Obama administration drew a reasonable line.

“This is a fair policy that protects women’s access to contraception from being dictated by their employers,” U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a statement praising the administration’s thoughtful and careful efforts to balance religious liberties.

The Affordable Care Act will help millions of Americans gain access to health care. Contraceptive services are a basic part of the package.

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