The Trump administration announced on Friday it will greatly expand the conscience exemption to Obamacare’s contraception mandate.
The administration’s exemption includes “any non-profit organization that have a religious or moral objection to providing contraception,” a senior Health and Human Services official told reporters Friday. For-profit companies can avoid the mandate as well, based on the same religious or moral grounds.
Under the new interim regulation, which goes into effect immediately, “employers who assert a good-faith objection to having their insurance plans pay for contraception will be exempt so long as they notify their employees of the change, the Health and Human Services Department said,” according to the Washington Times.
“The United States has a long history of providing conscience protections in the regulation of health care for entities and individuals with objections based on religious beliefs or moral convictions,” the administration wrote in a summary of the new rule.
The Obama administration created an “accommodation” allowing churches, religiously affiliated charities, and closely-held family owned companies to apply for an exemption with HHS which triggered a process that called for third parties (typically the insurance company) to pay for the coverage.
The Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling in a case involving Hobby Lobby forced the administration’s hand in providing a means for an exemption for closely-held companies that had religious objections to the contraception mandate.
Hobby Lobby’s insurance offered most of the 18 forms of birth control required by the mandate, but objected to providing abortion inducing drugs.
Some religious groups including the Little Sisters of the Poor objected to the Obama administration’s accommodation.
The group argued the insurance plans they purchased were still the means being used to provide contraception and the costs could easily be hidden by the premiums charged.
The case made its way to the Supreme Court with a decision in May 2016 calling on the government and the Little Sisters to reach an agreement whereby contraception could be provided in a way that was agreeable to both parties.
An agreement was not reached, but Trump administration’s new rule essentially makes the issue moot.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the public interest law firm representing the Little Sisters, welcomed the administration decision.
“An awful lot of people who voted for this president did so believing this was going to be something he would solve,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for Becket. “There are other ways to get contraceptives. You don’t need to force nuns to give people contraception.”
The pro-life group the Susan B. Anthony List also hailed the rule change.
“Today President Trump delivered a huge victory for conscience rights and religious liberty in America,” said SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser. “No longer will Catholic nuns who care for the elderly poor be forced by the government to provide abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans. Not only that, moral objectors such as the Susan B. Anthony List will also no longer have to pay for life-ending drugs that are antithetical to their mission and for which we have argued there is certainly no ‘compelling state interest.’”
“The Obama Administration’s repeated violations of conscience were deeply contrary to the core of our nation, which was built on the foundation of respect for the individual freedoms of the people and deeply held religious beliefs. We thank President Trump for fulfilling a core promise to voters of faith and conscience who elected him,” Dannenfelser added.
The National Women’s Law Center has promised legal action against the Trump administration over the new rule contending it will lead to large numbers of employers not providing contraception coverage.
“The Trump administration is treating birth control as if it’s not even health care. We see this as part of the larger war they are waging on women’s health,” said Mara Gandal-Powers, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center. “For some (women), it means choosing between preventive care like contraceptives and paying their rent, their mortgage, electric bill.”
Hadley Heath Manning, director of policy with the Independent Women’s Form, told Western Journalism to keep in mind Obamacare’s mandates, including that for contraception, have led to higher out of pocket expenses for many.
“Any purported savings for women due to this mandate should also be considered in light of the skyrocketing insurance premiums and other costs so many women have borne under the Affordable Care Act.”
An HHS official told reporters “99.9 percent of women” with access to free birth control through their insurance will not be affected by the new rule