The New York Times reported that the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is following through with a religious liberty executive order signed by President Trump on May 4. The order instructed the Secretary of Treasury, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services to "consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate."
The Affordable Care Act mandate for free contraceptive coverage has been a hot-button issue since it was implemented by the Obama administration, as some employers had religious objections. It generated many lawsuits, most famously The Little Sisters of the Poor's case, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 178-year-old religious order refused to comply with the birth control mandate, and in the end, the Supreme Court vacated the case and sent it back to the lower courts. But the real win for the Little Sisters of the Poor came almost a year later in the form of Trump's executive order. According to the OMB's website, the office is reviewing an "interim final rule" to roll back the birth control requirement in light of the president's mandate.
The Times reported the policy change would kick in immediately after it's published in the Federal Register because it's part of an interim final rule. (Agencies typically have open public forums to discuss rules before they're issued, but it's unclear whether that will be the case here.)
Under Obamacare, the preventive-care mandate didn't apply to churches and certain for-profit organizations like Hobby Lobby, the chain of craft stores owned by an evangelical Christian family. Charities could also opt out by filling out a government form.
But if the birth control mandate is rolled back by the Trump administration, any employer could opt out of offering contraceptive coverage in their health insurance plans if they have conscience-based objections. This would inevitably lead to women who work at those companies having to pay out-of-pocket for contraceptives such as birth control pills, IUDs, and the morning after pill.
However, Democrats won't allow the Trump administration to eliminate this measure without a fight.
On May 25, Sen. Patty Murray and 13 other Democrats sent a letter to White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney urging him to stop efforts that could potentially "undermine access to affordable preventive services, including contraception, for women."
The letter read: "Women saved more than $1.4 billion in out-of-pocket costs for birth control in 2013 alone. Access to affordable preventive services, including contraception, is a critical part of women’s health care."
The Democratic senators said more than 55 million women have benefited from the preventive-care mandate. If the measure is rolled back, it will likely be challenged in court by women's health advocates.
Gretchen Borchelt, vice president of the nonprofit National Women’s Law Center, told The Times her organization is preparing to sue the Trump administration if the rule is implemented.