The Trump administration rolled back women’s health coverage Friday, allowing any employer to drop contraceptive coverage for its female employees.
A provision of the Affordable Care Act requiring employers to provide contraceptive coverage, except for houses of worship, dramatically expanded access to birth control for women across the country. The new rule, posted to the Federal Register Friday morning and effective immediately, allows any company to get an exemption to the requirement because of a religious or moral objection to birth control.
“No American should be forced to violate his or her own conscience in order to abide by the laws and regulations governing our healthcare system,” a Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson said in an email to VICE News. “Today’s actions affirm the Trump Administration’s commitment to upholding the freedoms afforded all Americans under our Constitution.”
Religious organizations and certain conservative lawmakers have long been opposed to the 2012 mandate. After a 2013 Supreme Court decision in the lawsuit originally brought by Hobby Lobby, the government created an accommodation for religiously affiliated companies that allowed them to shift birth control coverage costs to the insurance company, but still prevented women from having to pay any out of pocket costs for birth control.
More than 55 million women were guaranteed free birth control through their private employer insurance plans because of the 2012 mandate. According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the share of reproductive age women paying out of pocket for birth control pills declined from 20.9 percent in 2012 to 3.6 percent in 2014. The new rule allowing companies complete exemptions shifts costs back to women, effectively limiting access to birth control.
“It puts the religious rights of the employer above those of women,” said Alina Salganicoff, director of women’s health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Haywood Brown, president of The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the medical organization is “extremely disappointed” by the Trump administration’s decision.
“Contraception is a medical necessity for women during approximately 30 years of their lives,” Brown said in a statement. “It improves the health of women, children and families as well as communities overall; reduces maternal mortality; and enhances economic stability for women and their families.”
Women across the country will be watching closely to see what their employers decide to do with the new exemption.
“Under an exemption, it’s a whole different way of operating,” Salganicoff said. “The big question is what will employer behavior be? Will they stay the course and continue to provide contraceptive coverage that we know is incredibly popular, or will they start to roll back what they’re doing based on opportunity to say they have a moral objection?”