Under the original terms of the Affordable Care Act, the vast majority of American employers were required to provide birth control coverage at no charge for their employees. The only exemptions to this rule were for churches and other houses of worship that might claim religious objections to the birth control mandate.
Since President Trump took office in January 2017 however, his administration has made repeated attempts to allow other religious organizations, small businesses and nonprofits to opt out of the birth control mandate as well. Last year, the Trump Administration issued interim rules which significantly expanded the scope of the birth control mandate opt-out program.
Then, earlier this month, the US Department of Health and Human Services issued a final ruling which permits exemptions for organizations with religious or moral objections to contraceptive coverage.
Public health and women’s advocacy groups have been quick to denounce the new rules, with some pointing out that the interim rules are already facing legal challenges.
“The Trump Administration decided to finalize these outrageous rules, despite several pending lawsuits and two federal courts blocking them,” said Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center in a statement. “Countless women depend on this critical birth control coverage for their health and economic stability – and we will continue to fiercely defend them.”
Although the impact of the updated rules have yet to be fully realized, Clare Coleman of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association estimated that they “could leave millions of women without access to birth control.”
Some legal experts have argued that virtually any of the many healthcare facilities affiliated with the Catholic Church could stop providing contraceptives to their employees, for example. Because many women use birth control to treat conditions such as endometriosis and hormonal imbalances, these rules could have far-reaching implications for women’s health in the U.S.