Today the Trump Administration announced a new policy (effective immediately) that will expand the exemptions available to employers who have moral objections to the ObamaCare birth control mandate. The mandate, also known as the "HHS contraception mandate" or sometimes "HHS rule," has already sparked more than 100 legal challenges. The most famous (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Zubik v. Burwell) both led to the Supreme Court.
The conflict, of course, is that the rule forces religious employers who may find birth control — or just certain forms of it — morally objectionnable to pay for insurance coverage for it. In this way, they are being forced, even indirectly, to pay for treatments and services that violate their deeply held religious beliefs. The Supreme Court sided with Hobby Lobby, and after that case closely-held corporations could opt out of the mandate. The government also tried to offer an "accommodation" to non-profit employers, like Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of nuns who sued the Obama Administration, but the accommodation would have still forced the Sisters to sign off on the objectionnable coverage. In this sense, it didn't accommodate them at all. So in their case (consolidated into Zubik v. Burwell) the Supreme Court offered a Per Curiam decision that said that lower courts had to mediate a solution that truly accommodated the Sisters.
After all of this, however, many employers (especially those without the capacity to sue the government) still faced a conflict in the HHS contraception mandate. Should they follow the law, or follow their faith? No American should ever face such a conflict.
That's why it's good news that today the Trump Administration in broadening the exemptions available for employers who object to the HHS rule. Charlotte has more here.
We can expect volume-eleven gnashing of teeth from left-wing women's organizations who will claim that this change guts the HHS rule and threatens women's access to birth control. This is alarmism. The HHS contraception mandate is a terribly misguided birth control policy. It assumes that all women want or need contraception (some don't), and it uses no-copay insurance coverage to pay for the drugs and devices, making it impossible for women to know the prices of various types of contraception. Some on the left will use the talking point that the mandate has saved women money, but they disregard the costs that women have borne, in higher insurance premiums and other out-of-pocket costs, under the many rules of the so-called Affordable Care Act. Women still pay for birth control under the HHS mandate; we simply do so through higher insurance costs.
Women would be much better off if more birth control options were available directly at the pharmacy, over the counter, at competitive, transparent prices. This would truly put women in charge of this very personal part of health care. It would remove the conflict over religious liberty because it would remove employers from the process entirely. Ironically, those who defend the misguided HHS rule argue that a woman's birth control should not be her boss's decision. But it is exactly because of the mandate that birth control coverage is in employers' hands. Scaling back this mandate is the better policy, not just for religious employers, but for the many women who choose to use birth control and deserve to be in charge of their own choices.