The Trump administration October 6 issued interim rules expanding the exemption to the contraceptive mandate for religious employers, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, who object on moral grounds to covering contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs and devices in their employee health insurance.
The administration is going forward with two interim rules, technically: one that creates a sweeping exemption to the Obamacare birth control mandate for religious objectors, and a second that extends that exemption to those who have objections based on "moral convictions".
President Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mandated that employers, with some exceptions for houses of worships and some companies, offer health insurance that covers birth control without a copay.
There is no way to satisfy all of the religious objections to the contraceptive coverage mandate, so "it is necessary and appropriate to provide the expanded exemptions", the Trump administration says in the new rules.
However, the rules will likely lead to lawsuits of a different nature, as advocates for women's health care fight for contraception coverage.
Repealing the act was one of Trump's most strident campaign promises.
The Supreme Court past year ordered the Obama administration and religiously affiliated organizations, such as universities and charities, to reach agreement on an accommodation that would let employees of such groups have access to no-cost contraception. Hundreds of thousands could lose that coverage with the change. The Supreme Court sided with Hobby Lobby, and after that case closely-held corporations could opt out of the mandate. Blumenthal added the madate "allowed 62 million American women to access birth control at no cost". (Sorry, Sisters, but Jesus H. Christ on a Saltine cracker, are you serious?) But then Trump came into office, and told The Little Sisters in May that "your long ordeal will soon be over".
"Today's decision by the Trump administration puts healthcare decisions in the hands of a woman's employer, which is so demeaning, discriminatory, and risky that it's hard to put it into words".
"The Trump administration is forcing women to pay for their boss's religious beliefs", said ACLU senior staff attorney Brigitte Amiri in a statement.
"In our modern society, it is unconscionable that the religious - or moral - beliefs of a private, for-profit employer can dictate the kind of medical care that is available to an employee".
In response to today's announcement on the revised rules, EWTN CEO Michael Warsaw said, "For more than five years, the HHS contraception mandate has forced Americans to violate their deeply held moral and ethical principles, without regard for the Constitution's guarantee of religious liberty".
According to The Hill, under the new rule, any employer or insurer can be exempt from the mandate on both moral and religious grounds.
"Today's action is more than regulatory relief for people of faith, it is a ray of sunshine signaling to faithful Americans that they need not fear government bullying like that endured by the Little Sisters of the Poor", the group said.
Until now, religiously affiliated charities and family-owned companies had to sign a form saying they didn't want to provide coverage, triggering a process where someone else would step in and offer coverage for free contraception. The health care law did not include a specific list of services.