The administration has made it easier for employers to opt out of an Obamacare mandate.

By Claire Zillman
October 6, 2017

The Trump administration’s Health and Human Services (HHS) Division on Friday issued a new rule that broadens exemptions to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirement that employers’ health care plans cover no-cost birth control.

The long-anticipated change makes it easier for employers to opt out of covering contraception on religious or moral grounds—exemptions that previously applied only to houses of worship, religiously affiliated nonprofits, and closely-held private companies like craft chain Hobby Lobby, which challenged the initial ACA (or Obamacare) requirement in court.

The administration is touting the new rule as a boost to religious freedom, arguing that Obamacare forced employers to provide forms of contraception that conflicted with their religious or moral beliefs. In briefing the new rule, HHS officials said that they expect “99.9%” of women to maintain access to free birth control through their insurance since only a small group of employers challenged the legality of the Obamacare provision to begin with.

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However, women’s groups have characterized the new rule as an attack on women, claiming that it could leave them without access to contraception or increase the cost of such measures.

One organization, the National Women’s Law Center, says it’s already planning legal action against the Trump administration on the basis that the new rule allows employers to discriminate against women.

“Today’s outrageous rules by the Trump Administration show callous disregard for women’s rights, health, and autonomy,” Fatima Goss Graves, the center’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “By taking away women’s access to no-cost birth control coverage, the rules give employers a license to discriminate against women.”

Mara Gandal-Powers, senior counsel at the NWLC, told Fortune that the group has heard from women who expect their employers to opt out of the birth control mandate.

“We plan to represent those women and sue the administration,” she said. She couldn’t provide a specific timeline for the legal action but indicated that it would happen soon. “We are very concerned that employers will be offering women health care coverage that doesn’t meet their [medical] needs while their male coworkers will get coverage that meets their needs.”

The implementation of the Obamacare contraception mandate in August 2012 made contraception largely free to many American women, with the share of women spending any out-of-pocket costs on oral contraception plunging from 20.9% in 2012 to 3% in 2015, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

A study published in 2015 found that Obamacare’s birth control benefit saved women $1.4 billion on contraceptive pills alone in 2013.

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