Religious groups granted more time on birth control rule

Posted Jan. 20, 2012, at 8:40 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration will allow religious organizations an additional year to comply with a new rule requiring employers that offer their workers health insurance to include coverage of birth control without out-of-pocket costs, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced Friday.

But the rule itself and the types of employers covered by it remain unchanged. This is likely to disappoint religious groups such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which had lobbied vigorously for a permanent exemption for all employers that oppose birth control on religious grounds.

Women’s advocates and some Democratic lawmakers greeted the decision with relief, because they had feared the administration was planning to significantly broaden the categories of religious employers exempt from the requirement.

The rule, which was originally proposed by the administration last August and will take effect this Aug. 1, does exempt employers such as churches whose primary purpose is to inculcate religious beliefs and that mainly employ and serve individuals who share those beliefs. However, the bishops had argued that this definition was too narrow — excluding a wide swath of church-affiliated universities, hospitals and schools.

Deadly storm grips Northwest in ice, snow

SEATTLE — A monster Pacific Northwest storm coated the Seattle area in a thick layer of ice Thursday and brought much of the state to a standstill, sending hundreds of cars spinning out of control, temporarily shutting down the airport and knocking down so many trees that members of the Washington State Patrol brought chain saws to work.

Oregon experienced torrential rain that swept away a car from a grocery store parking lot, killing a mother and her 1-year-old son. East of Seattle, a man was killed by a falling tree as he was backing an all-terrain vehicle out of a backyard shed, authorities said.

Freezing rain and ice pellets caused numerous accidents in the Seattle area, where drivers are mostly inexperienced with driving in snow or ice. The State Patrol said it had responded to about 2,300 accidents in a 24-hour period ending at 9 a.m. Thursday, roughly quadruple the average number.

Colo. girl escapes apparent kidnapper, calls 911

DENVER — A missing 9-year-old girl escaped from an apparent kidnapper and called 911 herself from a convenience store in Colorado Springs on Friday.

The Pueblo girl was reported missing Thursday night after she didn’t return home from school.

The suspect, Jose Garcia, 29, is also a suspect in an alleged molestation involving a different girl, Pueblo police Capt. Eric Bravo said.

The car of the man accused of kidnapping the girl broke down Friday morning in Colorado Springs, and a passerby gave them a ride to a Circle K, police said.

The girl ran into the store and asked to use the phone to call her uncle but instead called 911, which prompted the man to take off, authorities said.

Agency: Iran shuts down shops selling Barbie dolls

TEHRAN,Iran — An Iranian news agency is reporting police have closed down dozens of toy shop for selling Barbie dolls. The stated aim is to fight Western cultural influence.

The Friday report by semiofficial Mehr news agency quotes an unnamed police official as saying police also confiscated Barbie dolls from toy shops in Tehran in a “new phase” of its crackdown.

Since 1979 Islamic Revolution, Islamists have repeatedly tried to fight what they see as a Western cultural “invasion.”

A ban on sale of Barbie dolls, designed to look like young Western women, was imposed in the mid-1990s.

Despite bans on many Western books, movies, music, haircuts and fashions, young people maintain their interest in Western culture.

Even Iran’s state TV broadcasts several Western and Hollywood films every week.

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