President Donald Trump has followed through with his promise to Americans who object to the Obamacare contraceptive mandate for religious or moral reasons by officially ending the Obama-era rule.
As expected, the Trump administration announced the end of the controversial mandate that has required employers to provide free contraception, sterilization procedures, and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees through health insurance plans.
In early May, Trump signed an executive order protecting free speech and religious liberty for American faith groups. Part of the order directed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reexamine the contraceptive mandate.
A senior official with the administration said on background in a press briefing Thursday evening the new rule provides full protection for Americans with religious beliefs and moral convictions and acknowledges that the contraceptive mandate concerns serious issues of moral concern, including those involving human life.
According to the official, the rule will nevertheless leave free contraception in place for the vast majority of women since the new rule only covers moral and religious objections.
The mandate was inserted into Obamacare by former HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius – an abortion activist – and bureaucrats in her department. Following objections by many religious employers to the requirements of the mandate, the Obama administration devised “accommodations” that only gave the appearance the religious groups would not be either footing the bill for, or passively approving of, the federal government’s mandate of the offensive contraceptive drugs and sterilization procedures.
Planned Parenthood – which benefits financially from wider distribution of contraceptives – NARAL, and other feminist groups have attempted to portray Trump and other Republicans as intent on taking away women’s birth control by reversing the mandate. The Obama administration itself, however, actually exempted at least 25 million Americans, through various exemption allowances, from its own rule.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty – which represented the Little Sisters of the Poor in its case against the HHS mandate, noted the Obama administration had exempted large corporations such as Chevron, Exxon, Visa, and Pepsi Bottling from the rule, as well as the U.S. military and large cities like New York City.
The Little Sisters – which provides care for the elderly poor – became a central focus of the HHS mandate when the religious order stood to receive onerous fines of up to $70 million at the hands of the federal government for not complying with the Obamacare requirement to provide drugs and procedures that violate their faith principles.
Becket Law said a new rule by the Trump administration would fulfill the Supreme Court’s ruling in Zubik vs. Burwell last year as well as President Donald Trump’s promise to Americans of faith and moral convictions.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Zubik to send back the case of the Little Sisters and other faith organizations to the lower courts in effect protected groups such as the Little Sisters from the contraceptive mandate’s onerous fines. The new Trump administration rule will now protect a larger group of employers from the mandate, and not just the “closely held” private companies – such as Hobby Lobby – which the U.S. Supreme Court also ruled could be exempt due to religious objections.
According to senior administration officials, the new rule expands exemptions to include other nonprofit organizations and for-profit groups – both closely-held and some that are publicly traded if they have religious objections, as well as other kinds of employers with religious objections.
Colleges and universities with religious objections that provide health insurance for students may also be exempt from the contraceptive mandate according to the new rule.
The mandate’s end also means that individuals with religious or moral objections may receive an exemption if their employer or the insurance company that issues their health insurance is willing to provide them with a plan consistent with their beliefs.
Insurance companies themselves may be exempt under the new rule, according to senior HHS officials, though only to the extent that they offer a plan to groups or individuals who themselves have an exemption based on religious or moral objections.
During his presidential campaign, Trump had promised faith leaders and employers relief from the Obamacare mandate.
In a letter to the Catholic Leadership Conference in October of 2016, Trump told Catholic leaders just prior to his election that Hillary Clinton’s support for the HHS mandate “is a hostility to religious liberty you will never see in a Trump Administration.”
On life, I am, and will remain, pro-life. I will defend your religious liberties and the right to fully and freely practice your religion, as individuals, business owners and academic institutions. I will make absolutely certain religious orders like The Little Sisters of Poor are not bullied by the federal government because of their religious beliefs.
The president invited the Little Sisters on stage with him at his first National Day of Prayer event at the White House in May and said to them, “I want you to know that your long ordeal will soon be over.”
“We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied, or silenced anymore,” the president said. “We will never ever stand for religious discrimination.
“No American should be forced to choose between the dictates of the federal government and the tenets of their faith,” Trump added.