One of the most egregious examples of a federal attack on religious liberty in recent years may be about to come to an end. There are reports that the Trump Administration is preparing new regulations that will end the birth control mandate established by the Obama Administration as part of the Affordable Care Act.
The New York Times reports that new rules, which could be issued on Friday, would offer exemptions to certain employers who have moral objections to providing insurance that includes contraceptives to their employees. The new rules would reportedly cover employers and insurers who hold “sincerely held religious beliefs” or “moral convictions” against providing contraception.
The mandate was not part of the ACA, but was the product of regulations by the Department of Health and Human Services. While the Obama Administration did provide a religious exemption from the rules, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo noted in 2011, “Jesus himself, or the Good Samaritan of his famous parable, would not qualify as ‘religious enough’ for the exemption….”
Many private employers also objected to the fact that the regulation required them to purchase insurance for their employees that included not only contraceptives, but drugs that induce abortions. Others, such as employers who are Catholic, objected to contraception in general.
The mandate prompted several lawsuits. The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious charity made of nuns who practice celibacy, went to the Supreme Court to seek relief from the mandate. In 2015, Hobby Lobby won its lawsuit and the government was forced to amend its rule to provide religious exemptions. In the final rule, insurers were still forced to provide coverage for these employees, but the employers were not billed for the contraceptive coverage.
President Trump promised to end the revised mandate during the campaign, but so far has not taken steps to do so. In August, Daniel Dinardo, now the Catholic Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, wrote an op-ed in The Hill asking why the Obama-era policy was still in place.
It is important to note that changing the contraception mandate will not ban contraception in any way. It would merely mean that employers would not be forced to pay for drugs that they find morally objectionable. Their employees will still be able to get birth control and abortifacient prescriptions, they would just have to bear the cost, about $50 per month, on their own.
If President Trump does decide to roll back the Obama-era mandate, he will have fulfilled an important part of his promise to protect religious liberty and freedom of conscience. The big question is why he waited so long to do so.