The Trump administration says it will let employers opt out of providing health plans that cover birth control, weakening a requirement put in place by Obama administration officials, as part of a wider push to expand religious freedom.
The shift would broaden an Obama-era religious exemption from providing contraception coverage to more for-profit corporations and others not included in an earlier workaround. It would also permit employers to decide against offering contraception coverage for “moral,” rather than religious, reasons.
The move was one of a series of steps taken by the Trump administration Friday to provide what it says will be greater protections of religious freedom. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued guidance to federal agencies telling them to give broad deference to religious beliefs in their actions and enforcement.
Advocates for women’s health and civil rights expressed opposition to the change in the contraception-coverage rules. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit on Friday in San Francisco federal court to oppose the rule. Attorneys general in California and Massachusetts said they would take legal action to block the rules, as did the National Women’s Law Center, which called them “outrageous.”
The Affordable Care Act required employers to cover preventive health services with no out-of-pocket costs for the enrollees. Officials in Obama’s U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concluded that the preventive services benefits package should include coverage for birth control services, prescription drugs and devices.
The Obama administration had allowed some religious organizations to opt out of the contraceptive requirement, but the religious groups said that the exemption process didn’t go far enough.
The new rules would let employers avoid a workaround that was created by the Obama administration to let women gain access to contraceptives even if their employers object.
Both rules allow companies to choose which contraceptive methods they don’t want to cover. Some religious institutions object to forms of contraception that they view as causing an abortion.
The American College of Physicians said the rule change will “create substantial barriers to patients receiving appropriate medical care as recommended by their physicians.” The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the rules would hurt patients.
“Contraception is a medical necessity for women during approximately 30 years of their lives,” the group said. “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.”
The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List called the rules a victory for religious people.
“We thank President Trump for fulfilling a core promise to voters of faith and conscience who elected him,” President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement.