Trump Administration to Expand Religious and Moral Exemptions to Birth Control Coverage

FILE – In this Aug. 26, 2016, file photo, a one-month dosage of hormonal birth control pills is displayed in Sacramento, Calif. The Trump administration’s new birth control rule is raising questions among some doctors and researchers. They say it overlooks known benefits of contraception while selectively citing data that raise doubts about effectiveness and safety. Recently issued rules allow more employers to opt out of covering birth control as a preventive benefit for women under former President Barack Obama’s health care law.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

The Trump administration is expected to soon issue regulations that would expand religious and moral exemptions for covering birth control in employer health insurance plans, a move that critics say would limit women’s access to contraception.

The rules would probably roll back a controversial Obama-era mandate in the Affordable Care Act that required employers to cover birth control. The regulations were filed last week for review with the Office of Management and Budget, indicating that the administration is in the final stages of issuing the expanded exemptions.

The exact details of the exemptions, and when they would take effect, remain unclear. But women’s health advocates are bracing for a legal fight. They expect the rules to mimic earlier regulations enacted by the Trump administration last year before being blocked by federal judges.

The rules allowed nearly any employer — nonprofit or for-profit — with a religious or moral objection to opt out of the Affordable Care Act provision requiring the coverage of contraception at no cost for the employee. The rules vastly expanded which companies could be exempt from the mandate and why, including a broad exemption for a “sincerely held moral conviction” not based in any particular religious belief. Perhaps most significantly, it required employers to provide no other accommodations for employees seeking birth control coverage.

The Trump administration rules were “nothing short of radical,” American Civil Liberties Union Deputy Legal Director Louise Melling said in a phone call Thursday with reporters. “There’s no backstop to ensure coverage for employees.”

The number of companies that would opt for such exemptions is unclear. An employee’s coverage would depend largely on the employer’s insurance plan, as well as the state’s laws. Thirty states and the District of Columbia require insurance plans to cover contraceptives to some extent, with certain exemptions, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. But state laws in those places do not have authority over all plans. Meanwhile, 20 states have no contraception requirements for insurance plans.

The birth control rules are part of a broader effort by conservatives inside and outside of the White House to prioritize what they call religious liberty. It also comes in the midst of an ongoing court battle.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Samantha Schmidt

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