The Trump administration announced Wednesday that it has officially rolled back an Obama administration "birth control mandate" requiring, under penalty from the Health and Human Services Department, that all employers provide birth control free of charge to employees through their selected health plans.
The new rule will take effect in 60 days and will exempt employers who object to birth control on religious grounds from being forced to pay for birth control for any employees who choose to purchase it, the Washington Examiner reports.
The so-called "HHS mandate" ran into legal scrutiny almost immediately as religious employers, including craft store Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor — a group of Catholic nuns who provide services to low-income communities — objected to the requirement that they participate in a practice that goes directly against their closely held religious precepts.
Although the bill contained exemptions for churches themselves, the bill made no such provision for religious people.
Hobby Lobby's administration objected to the mandate on the grounds that the rule could be interpreted to require them to provide abortifacient drugs, in defiance of the owners' Christian faith. The Little Sisters of the Poor, Catholic nuns, would be required to provide birth control even though the Catholic Church is strict in its prohibition of any type of artificial birth control methods.
The First Amendment's guarantee of free exercise of religion, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (or RFRA), both groups contended, prevented the government from forcing them to violate a closely held religious belief. In a decision rendered several years ago, the Supreme Court agreed and forced the Obama administration to craft a more narrowly tailored rule that protected the rights of religious employers.
Religious conservatives weren't satisfied, even with the revisions, and pleaded with the Trump administration for years to issue a more specific rule that defied loose interpretations.
Contrary to the contentions of abortion rights groups, rolling back the measure does not limit birth control options for employees, even of religious employers — it simply requires that employees who choose to take birth control pay for it themselves.
But in the wake of the Trump administration's announcement, the ACLU and others doubled-down on efforts to claim women were being summarily stripped of the right to control their own bodies, that birth control was being outlawed, and that we were just moments away from The Handmaid's Tale.
“This rule will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of Americans, particularly women, to get the health care coverage they need," the ACLU said in a statement. "This rule will be used as a license to discriminate and represents a chilling return to the days when the government treated women’s sexuality, and thus contraception, as immoral, perpetuating harmful stereotypes that have long been used to discriminate against women."