Trump finally rolls back Obamacare's birth control mandate; effective immediately!


Finally pulling the trigger on one of the longest-running questions about administration healthcare policy, President Trump on Friday officially rolled back the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. The action takes effect immediately.

The rollback exempts a wide range of employers from the requirement that they offer birth control to their employees without co-pays or deductibles. It’s a sop to religious ideologues in the Republican base, and a flagrant attack on women’s reproductive health rights, and it’s abetted by a clutch of anti-contraception ideologues installed at the Department of Health and Human Services.

They’ve been pushing to narrow women’s birth control choices for years with widely debunked pseudoscientific claims that birth control produces mental health problems and breast cancer, that it doesn’t work and that it promotes promiscuity. Really now?

According to a notice published Friday in the Federal Register, the new policy is cloaked in claims of "religious freedom." The notice says its aim is to "protect religious beliefs for entities and individuals" with objections to contraceptive coverage, as well as "moral convictions" against contraceptives. It expands the exemption well beyond houses of worship and religious nonprofits.

The policy goes well beyond the exemption carved out by the Supreme Court, in it's 2014 Hobby Lobby decision, for privately held for-profit companies whose owners claimed religious or moral scruples against birth control.

The proposed rule has been floating around in public for months, awaiting Trump's signature. That happened Friday.

The new policy applies to any employer claiming a religious or moral objection to offering contraceptive coverage, including even publicly traded for-profit corporations with no evident religious or moral character.

Those claiming moral scruples won't have to prove or validate them in any way.

"We now believe the Government's legitimate interest in providing for contraceptive coverage do not require us to violate sincerely held religious beliefs," the government notice says. "We do not possess interests that require us to violate sincerely held moral convictions."

Nor does the new policy provide a work-around to protect employees from losing their contraceptive coverage, as did the Obama administration.

President Obama’s solution was to take the funding of contraceptive coverage out of the hands of the objecting employers and transfer it to their insurers, who would then be reimbursed by the government. The new rule is a flat exemption, with no alternative arrangement to provide birth control to employees. It’s aptly described as a “gutting [of] the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate,” in the words of the patient advocacy coalition Protect Our Care.

Reaction to the rollback was almost instantaneous. The American Civil Liberties Union and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey separately announced lawsuits to block the rule. 

The ACLU's case rests on equal protection grounds and the Constitutional separation of church and state. "The federal government cannot authorize discrimination against women in the name of religion or otherwise," ACLU senior staff attorney Brigitte Amiri said in a written statement. Other lawsuits are certain to follow.