Federal health officials on Friday formalized a rule that would permit any employer with religious objections to birth control to omit coverage for contraception from their workers' plans. That opposition has extended to the absurd claim that even filing a form requesting an exemption was religious oppression. Religious-liberty protections are central to American values, the official explained.
The Justice Department on Friday released two memos that will serve as the government's legal basis for justifying the rule and laying out a framework for how apply religious liberty issues in legal opinions, federal rules and grant making. Such policy reflects authentic "tolerance" of divergent viewpoints, he said.
An example of this could be the secular crisis pregnancy center Real Alternatives, Inc., which has no religious affiliation, but which objected to the mandate. There was no access issue to birth control before 2012. "It's a good way to protect those Americans who want to be able to provide quality health insurance, but can't in good conscience provide contraceptives".
But women's health advocates say that program is already underfunded, and other Trump administration priorities - including stalled plans to repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood - would further erode access to affordable birth control. That provision has also been extended to organizations and small businesses that have objections "on the basis of moral conviction which is not based in any particular religious belief".
Rienzi explained that the new rules don't exempt all employers from the requirement that they provide contraception to their employees - just ones with religious or moral objections.
Religious houses of worship were the only employers exempted from the mandate entirely. Real Alternatives lost a suit against the mandate at the 3rd Circuit Court in August, which ruled that its pro-life mission did not merit a religious exemption from the mandate.
The American Civil Liberties Union also announced its intentions to sue on Twitter, arguing that employers don't have a right to make health decisions for their employees.
"Except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law", Sessions wrote. Before the contraception coverage rule, birth control accounted for 30-44% of a woman's out-of-pocket healthcare costs.
Prior to Obamacare, contraceptive coverage varied by employer and state, said Alina Salganicoff, director of women's health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
"The roll back of the birth control mandate puts women's health and lives at the mercy of their employers, insurance companies and schools".
Trump's religious and moral exemption is expected to galvanize both his opponents and religious conservatives who back him, but it seems unlikely to have a major impact on America's largely secular workplaces. The ACLU filed a lawsuit on Friday, declaring the move unconstitutional.
The administration lists health risks that it says may be associated with the use of certain contraceptives, and it says the mandate could promote "risky sexual behavior" among some teenagers and young adults. That's likely to be true for most of the cases in the court system right now. "This is an unacceptable attack on basic health care that the vast majority of women rely on", Richards said in a statement. Employers could cite any religious or moral reason.
The controversial mandate, initiated as part of the Affordable Care Act, provoked dozens of lawsuits from roughly 200 entities, which HHS said could obtain the exemption.
The "accommodation" offered to nonprofits by the Obama administration is now voluntary. Ultimately, millions of women who now receive no-cost contraception through their insurance will be required to pay out of pocket.
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