New rules issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services today roll back the Affordable Care Act provisions that required birth control to be covered with no co-pay as a preventive service by an employer. According to the New York Times, many types of employers are now able to stop covering contraceptives under their health insurance plans if they have a "sincerely held religious or moral objection." These regulations will take effect immediately.
A statement from Health and Human Services detailed two seperate rules which will make it much easier for employers to claim they object on moral grounds, as well as religious. First, employers that have "sincerely held religious beliefs" against contraception will no longer be forced to cover it in their insurance. Secondly, any organizations or small businesses that have objections "on the basis of moral conviction which is not based in any particular religious belief" will also be exempt. Requiring insurance plans to cover birth control imposes a “substantial burden” to the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and could promote “risky sexual behavior” among adolescents, according to a spokesperson for the administration.
This change has been a long-held goal of conservatives, since the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate was issued in 2012. The contraceptive mandate was put in place to lower health care costs, as using contraception is obviously cheaper than a pregnancy or termination. Covering contraception under insurance is also justified as it improves women's mental and physical health, due to the fact that around 40% of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned. In fact, the contraceptive mandate has contributed to an all-time low in unintended pregnancy and the lowest abortion rate in the U.S. since the procedure became legal in 1973. Although some religious groups and businesses sued in response, most notably Hobby Lobby, the Obamacare regulations were welcomed by women and families across the country.
55 million women benefited from the Obamacare contraceptive rule, but Health and Human Services officials said the new rule would have no impact on "99.9% of women," just those who work at the around 200 employers that have been involved in lawsuits over birth control coverage. However, these numbers could rise rapidly if other institutions began to register their objections, like religious hospitals and nonprofit orgnisations.
This is just the latest attack on women's reproductive freedom by an administration that is also silmultaneously decreasing access to abortion services. Trump has stacked his cabinet with blatant opponents to contraception, like Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Vice President Mike Pence, so this will likely not be the last that this government attempts to regulate women's choices. The ACLU and the National National Women's Law Center have already announced that they are planning to file a lawsuit against the new rules.
Top photo: Flickr.com/GageSkidmore
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Molly McLaughin is a writer who likes pizza, politics and poetry. In that order. She tweets at @mollysgmcl.