U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration on Friday undermined requirements under the Obamacare law that employers provide insurance to cover women’s birth control, keeping a campaign pledge that pleased his conservative Christian supporters.
New rules from the Department of Health and Human Services will let businesses or nonprofit organizations lodge religious or moral objections to obtain an exemption from the law’s mandate that employers provide contraceptives coverage in health insurance with no co-payment.
Conservative Christian activists and congressional Republicans praised the move, while reproductive rights advocates and Democrats criticized it. It was unclear how many employers would actually drop birth control coverage on religious grounds, and there were significant doubts that many big ones would.
Within hours, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the administration in federal court in San Francisco to try to halt the rule, claiming among other things that it violated the U.S. Constitution’s requirement for separation of church and state.
The states of Massachusetts and California also sued, and Democratic state attorneys general in another 16 states threatened legal action.
“This is a landmark day for religious liberty. Under the Obama administration, this constitutional right was seriously eroded,” Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said.
“The Trump administration just took direct aim at birth control coverage for 62 million women,” Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said.
“With this rule in place, any employer could decide that their employees no longer have health insurance coverage for birth control,” Richards added.
Trump, who criticized the birth control mandate in last year’s election campaign, won strong support from conservative Christian voters. The Republican president signed an executive order in May asking for rules that would allow faith-based groups to deny insurance coverage for services they oppose on religious grounds.
The contraception mandate was implemented as part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement. Trump and Republicans in Congress campaigned against Obamacare, as the law is known, but could not get enough votes to repeal it as they had promised.
In its reasoning for the move, the administration said among other things that mandating birth control coverage could foster “risky sexual behavior” among teens and young adults. It overturned the Obama administration’s view that the birth control requirement was necessary to meet the government’s “compelling interest” to protect women’s health.
“This administration’s contempt for women reaches a new low with this appalling decision,” top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi said.
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