Lawsuits aren't stopping Trump from trying to allow employers to opt out of birth control coverage

New rules unveiled Thursday will allow large, for-profit employers to deny coverage based on religious beliefs.
November 8, 2018, 8:07pm
Lawsuits aren't stopping Trump from trying to allow employers to opt out of birth control coverage

The Trump administration wants to give employers the option to deny birth control coverage for female employees based on religious or moral grounds, according to a set of final rules unveiled Wednesday.

The rules, which are set to take effect in two months, allow large, for-profit employers to deny coverage based on religious beliefs, according to the final language released by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Wednesday. For non-profit institutions and small employers, the administration is offering a vague and nonreligious “moral” exemption, allowing those employers to deny coverage if they have “convictions” about it.

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Under current federal law, most private and employer-based insurance plans are required to cover contraceptives as “essential health benefits,” without imposing any cost-sharing burdens on the customer. The mandate went into effect in 2012 as part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, and the number of privately-insured women paying nothing for their contraceptives jumped to 67 percent, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

But the Trump administration is steadily chipping away at that protection. Last October, for example, Trump released a set of interim rules that created loopholes in birth control coverage. At the time, officials with Health and Human Services claimed the rules wouldn’t impact “99.9% of women,” but that calculation included all women in America, many of whom were not in their childbearing years, according to CNN.

Four nonprofit groups and eight states filed lawsuits to block the rule last year, obtaining preliminary injunctions from courts in Pennsylvania and California. The Trump administration appealed those two cases, which will likely wind their way to the Supreme Court, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Ultimately, if the rules are upheld, it’ll be up to a woman’s employer, her insurance plan and her state to determine which contraceptive services — if any — are covered.

“The Trump Administration decided to finalize these outrageous rules, despite several pending lawsuits and two federal courts blocking them,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center, in a statement. “It’s clear that this Administration will stop at nothing to attack women’s health care.”

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists slammed the new rules in a statement, saying they “continue an alarming trend of reducing access to contraception.” “Contraception improves women's health and well-being, reduces unintended pregnancy, enables pregnancy spacing for safer pregnancies and deliveries, and empowers women's engagement in the workforce and economic self-sufficiency,” said Lisa Hollier, the president of the medical organization, in a statement. “A woman's employer should not determine whether or not she has this access.”

Cover image: BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images