Screengrab: YouTube, Al Jazeera English

The Facts —

  • The Trump administration issued interim final rules on 6 October allowing employers with religious or moral objections to opt out of providing birth control for their female employees.
    • Previously, the Obama administration required all employers to offer their female employees birth control coverage at no cost.
  • The document outlining the Trump administration’s new rules says:

“The United States has a long history of providing conscience protections in the regulation of health care for entities and individuals with objections based on religious beliefs or moral convictions. These interim final rules expand exemptions to protect moral convictions for certain entities and individuals whose health plans are subject to a mandate of contraceptive coverage.”

  • The new rules are two-fold:
    • The first rule allows an employer to opt out of providing birth control on the basis of religious grounds.
    • The second rule allows an employer to opt out of providing birth control on the basis of moral grounds.
    • The Department of Health and Human Services released a press statement in which it outlines the two rules. The statement says:

“Under the first of two companion rules released today, entities that have sincerely held religious beliefs against providing such services would no longer be required to do so. The second rule applies the same protections to organizations and small businesses that have objections on the basis of moral conviction which is not based in any particular religious belief.”

  • The new rules went into effect on 6 October.
  • Written comments can be submitted until 5 December.

The Context —

  • Under the Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2010, employers are required to provide health care plans for their employees if they employ 200 or more people.
  • The act also “requires health plans to provide coverage for, and to not impose any cost sharing requirements for specified preventive items or services.”
  • In July 2013, updated “final rules” were issued which said that “religious employers” did not have to provide contraception for their employees.
    • The “religious employers” would have to submit a notice in order to be considered exempt from the Affordable Care Act requirement.
      • “Religious employer” was defined as “churches and other houses of worship.”
  • In June 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that “religious employers” had the right to object to providing birth control for their employers in accordance with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The case was filed in October 2013.
    • The case was filed by three for-profit companies that have “sincere Christian beliefs that life begins at conception,” and also believe that the Affordable Care Act of 2010 would violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by taking away their right to deny giving birth control to their female employees.
    • The Supreme Court ruled that this ACA provision violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
    • The Religious Freedom Restoration Act says:

“Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”

  • Many religious non-profit organizations challenged the requirement to submit a notice informing the government of their exemption from the ACA’s contraceptive mandate.
      • In 2016, the case Zubik v. Burwell went to the Supreme Court. Petitioners in the case were “primarily nonprofit organizations that provide health insurance to their employees.”
        • Petitioners argued that “submitting this notice substantially burdens the exercise of their religion” and was therefore a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
      • The Supreme Court vacated and remanded the case — meaning it was sent back to the trial courts for reconsideration.
      • As of October 2017, the verdict remains unclear.
  • On 4 May, President Donald Trump issued an executive order titled “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” which instructs the Secretaries of the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services to review amendments on the preventive-care mandates on the basis of religious or moral objections.
    • Section 3 of the executive order says:

“The Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate.”

Support for the New Rules —

“HHS has issued a balanced rule that respects all sides– it keeps the contraceptive mandate in place for most employers and now provides a religious exemption. The Little Sisters still need to get final relief in court, which should be easy now that the government admits it broke the law.”

  • The Little Sisters of the Poor — a group of Catholic nuns — were one of the petitioners in Zubik v. Burwell.

Critics of the New Rules —

  • Rep. Pramila Jayapal (Washington) tweeted a video response:

  • The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Trump administration over the new rule.

“… could open the door for widespread, religious-based discrimination against women, LGBT people, people of minority faiths and races, and others in a variety of contexts.”

Megan Evershed contributed to this report.

The Whim News Team

The Whim News Desk

We'd rather be second and accurate than be first and wrong. The Whim News Desk is a dedicated team of researchers and investigators committed to presenting the news without bias. Follow us @TheWhimOnline for daily news coverage without the spin!

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