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Trump Administration Issues Rules Permitting Birth Control Coverage Exemption

The Trump administration issued two rules on Wednesday that will permit some employers to opt out of providing coverage for birth control based on religious or moral grounds.

The first rule provides an exemption to companies that object to birth control coverage due to “religious beliefs,” while the second offers a “non-religious moral convictions” exemption. The former will particularly apply to religious organizations while the second exemption will be available primarily to nonprofit organizations and small businesses. Publicly traded companies and governments will not be permitted to claim these exemptions.

The rules undercut a requirement set forth during the Obama administration that stipulated that benefits provided through the Affordable Care Act include coverage of contraception at no cost to the consumer.

While that law first took effect in 2011, it immediately triggered backlash from religious groups that object to most forms of birth control due to religious motivations. Last year, the Trump administration proposed a set of rules that would have effectively allowed any employer to cite a religious or moral objection to circumvent meeting the requirement.

Federal judges in California and Pennsylvania granted injunctions against the proposals late last year. The legal disputes are still underway; nevertheless, the two rules issued Wednesday are due to take effect 60 days after their publication in the Federal Register.

These final rules are part of a wider priority by the Trump administration to minimize laws that infringe on “religious freedom.” Meanwhile, women’s health advocates suggest that it is an attack on women’s health needs and will serve to discriminate against women. Experts have further pointed out that the uses of contraception are not limited to birth control: many women rely on it to treat other medical conditions, including hormone imbalances and endometriosis.

The administration proposed an additional new rule on Wednesday that would limit abortion coverage. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed separating health care billing from coverage related to abortion services to ensure that taxpayer-provided subsidies for health insurance are not used to pay for abortions.