DemDaily: In The Name of Religious Freedom

October 11, 2017

Last Friday the Trump administration announced its latest in a series of rules that rollback women's healthcare and reproductive rights - by expanding the rights of employers to deny women insurance coverage for contraception.

It is also another attack on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or "Obamacare", which Trump and the Republican Congress have tried repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, to repeal.

In announcing the rule change, HHS officials referenced a study indicating that access to contraception encourages "risky sexual behavior" among some teenagers and young women.

Obamacare, signed into law in 2010, mandates that all employer insurance plans cover at least one form of contraception (of 18 FDA-approved methods) without a patient co-payment. Religious organizations and some closely-held, for-profit companies, can apply for exemption.

If an employer qualifies for exemption, the government makes arrangements for a third-party insurance company to guarantee coverage for that company's employees.

A 2015 Health Affairs report showed the Obamacare mandate covers an estimated 55 million women, reducing their out-of-pocket spending by 50%, and saving them $1.4 billion. The mandate has also guaranteed treatment for related healthcare conditions and has led to an historically low number of abortions.

Friday's administration rule, announced by the Department of Health and Human Services, states that any employer or insurer can stop following the ACA's contraception mandate if they have moral or religious objections to providing birth control to employees.  This includes any nonprofit, small business, large private or publicly-held corporation, school, or other entity.

Employers will not have to file any exemption qualifications with the government - but, instead, just have to notify their employees of the decision to stop coverage.  It also eliminates the government guarantee of coverage for employees of exempted companies.

"Any move to decrease access to these vital services would have damaging effects on public health and women's health" -- American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
The October 6th rule was one of two issued by the administration -- including one that outlined how an employer could claim an exemption for religious beliefs, and a second that outlined an exemption for sincerely held "moral" convictions.

             Sessions Memo (click for full)


Planned Parenthood estimates that a total of 62 million women, roughly 38% of the US female population, will be affected by the new Trump administration rule - which takes effect immediately.

Following the HHS announcement Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a separate, government-wide legal guidance memo that called for sweeping protections for "religious freedom" that could significantly impact other policy decisions regarding healthcare, LGBT and women's rights under federal programs.

Planned Parenthood Facts on Trump Rule
Obamacare Facts

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: NewYorkTimes, BBC, NPR, The Hill, Planned Parenthood, Politico, Census Bureau, Kaiser Family Foundation, Wikipedia

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