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Trump Administration Rolls Back Birth Control Mandate

Category: Gender in the world 
2017-10-09

The Trump administration on Friday moved to expand the rights of employers to deny women insurance coverage for contraception and issued sweeping guidance on religious freedom that critics said could also erode civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The twin actions, by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department, were meant to carry out a promise issued by President Trump five months ago, when he declared in the Rose Garden that “we will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions quoted those words in issuing guidance to federal agencies and prosecutors, instructing them to take the position in court that workers, employers and organizations may claim broad exemptions from nondiscrimination laws on the basis of religious objections.

At the same time, the Department of Health and Human Services issued two rules rolling back a federal requirement that employers must include birth control coverage in their health insurance plans. The rules offer an exemption to any employer that objects to covering contraception services on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.

 

 

More than 55 million women have access to birth control without co-payments because of the contraceptive coverage mandate, according to a study commissioned by the Obama administration. Under the new regulations, hundreds of thousands of women could lose those benefits.
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The contraceptive coverage mandate, issued by the Obama administration under the Affordable Care Act, removed cost as a barrier to birth control, a longtime goal of advocates for women’s rights. But the mandate ensnarled the federal government in more than five years of litigation, which overshadowed many other aspects of the health care law.

The rules issued on Friday prompted more lawsuits and threats of lawsuits. The attorney general of Massachusetts, Maura Healey, and the attorney general of California, Xavier Becerra, filed lawsuits to block the new rules, which took effect immediately.

Both said the rules violated the First Amendment, which bars government action “respecting an establishment of religion.”

But some conservatives and religious groups said the new rules would allow them to live out their religious beliefs. Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin hailed the rules as “a landmark day for religious liberty.” The rules were also welcomed by groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Roman Catholic nuns who had resisted the Obama administration’s mandate because, they said, it would make them “morally complicit in grave sin.”

 


The Obama administration generally required employers to cover all forms of birth control approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including pills that critics say may cause fertilized eggs to be aborted.

“No American should be forced to violate his or her own conscience in order to abide by the laws and regulations governing our health care system,” said Caitlin Oakley, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

But Richard B. Katskee, the legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an advocacy group that plans to challenge the rules in court, said they imposed an impermissible burden on female employees who want cost-free contraceptive coverage and may be unable to get it.

“Religious freedom is the right to believe and worship as you see fit,” Mr. Katskee said. “It’s never the right to use government to impose costs, burdens or harms on other people. You can’t use the government to make other people pay the price for your religious beliefs or practices.”

The Trump administration on Friday also notified health insurance companies that it would vigorously enforce provisions of the Affordable Care Act regulating coverage of abortion services. The health department reminded insurers that if they cover abortion, they generally cannot use federal funds for that purpose, but must collect separate payments from consumers and must deposit the money in special accounts used exclusively for coverage of abortion services.

Under the new rules, exemptions to the contraceptive coverage mandate would be available to many kinds of employers, including publicly traded companies that said they had religious objections to covering some or all types of contraception.
 
The Trump administration said that some people would, as a result of the new rules, not receive “coverage or payments for contraceptive services.”

“The government’s legitimate interests in providing for contraceptive coverage do not require us to violate sincerely held religious beliefs” or moral convictions, the administration said. But, it said, officials “do not have sufficient data to determine the actual effect of these rules,” the extra costs that women might incur for contraceptives or the number of unintended pregnancies that might occur.

 

 

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Tags: Trump contraception

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