In response to the Trump administration's decision to roll back the federal birth control mandate, the American Civil Liberties Union announced that it is filing a lawsuit to challenge the interim final rules issued on Friday by the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies.
"The Trump administration is forcing women to pay for their boss's religious beliefs," said ACLU senior staff attorney Brigitte Amiri. "We're filing this lawsuit because the federal government cannot authorize discrimination against women in the name of religion or otherwise."
The lawsuit is being filed on behalf of ACLU members as well as Service Employee International Union-United Health Care Workers West (SEIU-UHW) members, who could lose their contraception coverage under the administration's new rules.
"With the stroke of a pen, the Trump administration has shamelessly attempted to rip away the rights of untold numbers of women to receive essential healthcare, under the warped facade of 'religious freedom,'" said SEIU-UHW president Dave Regan. "Apparently, 'religious freedom' to this administration is the freedom to allow bosses to make medical decisions for and discriminate against female employees."
Reproductive rights advocates raised alarms on Friday when the Trump administration rolled back a federal mandate requiring employers to include birth control coverage in employee health insurance plans.
"Donald Trump's latest dictate is a perfect execution of his passions: controlling women and robbing people of healthcare."
—Ilyse Hogue, NARAL
"Donald Trump's latest dictate is a perfect execution of his passions: controlling women and robbing people of healthcare," said NARAL president Ilyse Hogue. "Coming on the heels of the abortion ban and the failure to reauthorize CHIP this week, this action by the Trump administration reminds us that the anti-choice GOP is trying to impose a radical worldview on the country."
"Today's outrageous rules by the Trump administration show callous disregard for women's rights, health, and autonomy," said Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women's Law Center.
"By taking away women's access to no-cost birth control coverage, the rules give employers a license to discriminate against women," Graves added. "We will take immediate legal steps to block these unfair and discriminatory rules."
The New York Times on Thursday night had reported on a leaked draft of the administration's new rules, which address an Affordable Care Act mandate requiring employers to include contraception coverage with no out-of-pocket costs to employees in insurance plans. The mandate has been embroiled in lawsuits for the past several years.
The new rules, according to the Times report, allow an exemption for any business or insurance provider that, based on "moral convictions" or "sincerely held religious beliefs," objects to covering contraception. The employers are not required to submit proof of such convictions or religious beliefs.
There already existed an exemption for churches, and the Supreme Court issued to a blow to the mandate in 2014, when it ruled in Burwell v Hobby Lobby (pdf) that closely-held for-profit corporations were exempt from providing access to certain types of contraception.
However, by allowing any company to qualify for an exemption, the new rules significantly weaken the mandate—and, as the Times reports, will likely have a notable impact on women's ability to access birth control:
More than 55 million women have access to birth control without co-payments because of the contraceptive coverage mandate, according to a study commissioned by the Obama administration. Under the new regulations, hundreds of thousands of women could lose birth control benefits they now receive at no cost under the Affordable Care Act.
The Associated Press reports that the administration is estimating "some 200 employers who have already voiced objections to the Obama-era policy would qualify for the expanded opt-out, and that 120,000 women would be affected. However, it's unclear how major religious-affiliated employers such as Catholic hospitals and universities will respond."
Many critics outlined how weakening the mandate will have major medical consequences for women.
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"Birth control is a medically necessary resource; it is indispensable for family planning, treating menstrual cramps, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and quite literally saves lives," said Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of UltraViolet, a leading women's advocacy organization.
"The Trump administration's decision today is yet another attack on American women, including the 99 percent of American women who have used birth control at some point in their lives—and especially the 54 percent of Black and 57 percent of Latina women between the ages of 18-34 who have struggled to afford contraception," Thomas said.
Reproductive rights advocates, politicians, and others immediately condemned the decision:
An estimated 574,000 women who use birth control didn’t have coverage before mandate. These are the people at risk.https://t.co/DeTPGFolYe— Sarah Kliff (@sarahkliff) October 6, 2017
This administration just rolled back birth control coverage for American women. In 2017. https://t.co/aLZLrpFOCg— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) October 6, 2017
Women have been in the crosshairs of virtually every policy from this admin - but this attack is a new low. https://t.co/B1osAQP7re— Cecile Richards (@CecileRichards) October 6, 2017