The New York Times is reporting that the Trump administration plans to roll back the federal requirement that employers and insurance companies must include coverage of the full range of birth control options in their health insurance plans. The new rule, which could impact over 55 million women currently accessing birth control without co-payments thanks to the federal mandate, may be issued as early as today. Employers will be able to opt out of providing coverage as soon as it goes into effect.
Trump has been promising to roll back the federal requirement since his campaign days, and the administration has reportedly been working for months on the directive. The current mandate for free contraceptive coverage under all health insurance plans was one of the most controversial Obama administration policies put into effect under the Affordable Care Act.
The easing of the federal mandate follows in the footsteps of the 2014 Supreme Court decision that the Affordable Care Act cannot require employers to offer insurance coverage for birth control methods they equate with abortion and thus oppose for religious reasons. But the Supreme Court decision only applied to private corporations like Hobby Lobby, the family-owned craft store involved in the 2014 suit.
According to Planned Parenthood, the new law will both eliminate coverage protection for employees of religiously affiliated businesses and allow any employers or insurers, regardless of religious affiliation, to deny birth control coverage on the basis of so-called moral objection.
“Let’s be clear: this rule has nothing to do with religion. Under the Affordable Care Act religious organizations already have an accommodation that still ensures their employees get coverage through other means,” said Planned Parenthood vice president of public policy and communication Dana Singiser in a statement.
The birth control mandate reportedly saved women $1.4 billion in 2013 alone and broke access barriers for many lower-income women. Limiting access to birth control will no doubt result in an uptick in unplanned pregnancies, and yet conservatives are also working to pass a 20-week abortion ban that could jail providers of abortions after 20 weeks of gestation for up to five years, with exceptions for instances of rape or threats to the life of the mother. While Planned Parenthood notes that 99 percent of abortions do take place within the 20-week window, the ones that don’t are often cases of mothers who have limited access to healthcare.
These attacks on access to both contraception and abortion threaten to send both health care policy and women’s rights back decades. Several women’s rights organizations, including the National Women’s Law Center, are in the midst of planning lawsuits that would challenge the new rule. Gretchen Borchelt, a spokesperson for the organization, told the Times one possible argument might be that the rule is “arbitrary and capricious” and therefore in violation of federal law. It could also be argued that it is in violation of a section of the Affordable Car Act that forbids discrimination based on gender in programs that recieve federal funding.