President Donald Trump’s administration on Saturday annulled an Obamacare provision that obliged employer health plans to pay for contraception, potentially stripping free birth control from millions of women. The move extends to all commercial enterprises an exemption already given to religious institutions.
Rights groups, physicians, Democrats and ordinary citizens were outraged, and #HandsOffMyBC was a top trending hashtag on Twitter while the American Civil Liberties Union threatened a lawsuit.
But the White House insisted it was a matter of religious freedom.The ruling expands “exemptions to protect moral convictions for certain entities and individuals whose health plans are subject to a mandate of contraceptive coverage” under Obamacare, a note published by the US department of health and human services said.
Millions of American women who had the cost of contraception reimbursed could be affected by the decision.
Challenges to Obamacare had reached the US Supreme Court, which in 2014 ruled that family-owned private companies could choose not to provide contraceptive coverage to female employees on religious grounds.
It was not immediately clear how many women would be affected by the new ruling. The Trump administration, basing estimates off the number of employers who had previously filed lawsuits over the Obamacare requirement to fully cover the costs of birth control, said it would only be about 1,20,000 women.
A 2016 government study said Obamacare had guaranteed that 55.6 million women with private insurance had access to free birth control.
Bernie Sanders, who sought the Democratic nomination for President in last November’s election, called the new rule sexist. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the decision would threaten women’s health.
But the White House framed it as an issue of religious liberty and asserted that the law was on its side. “The President believes that the freedom to practice one’s faith is a fundamental right in this country and that’s all today was about,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.
- Employers can now withhold birth control coverage on religious grounds.
- Under the new regulations, thousands of women could lose birth control benefits.
- 55m: women have access to birth control under Obamacare.