By TESSA CATE
The enduring controversy, contraception versus creed, hit a new pressure point on Oct. 6 when the Trump administration announced an update to the Affordable Care Act enhancing employers’ abilities to deny female employees contraceptive coverage.
The Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate took effect in 2012 and required employers to provide health care plans complete with birth control options. For women that are used to paying between $15 to $50 per month for birth control, this provision was monumental.
Research done by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that because of Obamacare’s contraceptive coverage mandate, the number of women paying out-of-pocket for oral contraceptives dropped from over 21 percent to just 3 percent in the last three years.
According to a study run during the Obama administration, in the United States alone, there are 61 million women in their childbearing years and, “more than 55 million have access to birth control without co-payments because of the contraceptive coverage mandate.” As a result of the Trump administration’s decision to roll back the regulations established in the Affordable Care Act, hundreds of thousands of women stand to lose their coverage.
The change is the result of a promise Trump touted on the campaign trail – a promise meant to appeal to conservatives and their religious beliefs. According to The Washington Post, “The rules significantly widen the range of employers and insurers that can invoke religious or moral beliefs to avoid the ACA requirement that birth control pills and other contraceptives be covered by insurance as part of preventive care.”
What this means for female employees is that if their employer has “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions,” and claims that offering contraceptives as part of a health care plan violates their religious beliefs, it is now within their rights to request exemption from the ACA’s 2010 mandate.
When Obamacare was originally passed, it allowed certain religiously-affiliated organizations exemption from the mandate. However, this new change in regulation loosens the binds on the definition of “religious affiliation” and opens the gates for any employer to deny their employees full healthcare coverage.
The issue has received positive feedback from Republicans, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) who hailed the decision as a “landmark day for religious liberty.” However, the new ruling is receiving bite-back from across the aisle.
NPR’s All Things Considered mentioned, “The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Trump Administration within hours of the rule being published, claiming it violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, which ensures that all people receive equal protection under the law.” Lawsuits have also been filed in Massachusetts and California halting the legislation from being implemented on the basis that it violates the First Amendment regarding the government’s respect of establishment of religion.
Bob Ferguson, Washington Attorney General, has joined the action stating that the new rules violate the first amendment by “requiring individuals to bear the burdens of religions to which they do not belong.” Ferguson filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, citing violations of not only the first amendment, but the Civil Rights Act. “The Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination against women based on sex or the capacity to be pregnant… The rules result in women having less access to reproductive health care, which is discrimination based on their gender.”