The Trump administration announced today that they will provide an exemption for employers with religious and moral objections to providing birth control in employee health insurance plans.
According to a senior Health and Human Services (HHS) official to reporters today, the new exemption will apply to “any non-profit organization that has a religious or moral objection to providing contraception.”
The new rule represents a substantial broadening of the entities eligible for exemption due to religious objectives by including nonprofit and for-profit companies that are not publicly traded. It even offers an exemption for some for-profit companies that are publicly traded but these would have to claim a moral rather than a religious exemption.
The previous rule, established in 2012, allowed only a narrow religious exemption for churches and their integrated auxiliaries which left many religious charities and universities having to choose between complying with the rule or face heavy fines. This led to dozens of lawsuits involving several Catholic diocese, universities and health care institutions as well as entities such as the Little Sisters of the Poor and EWTN.
According to the National Catholic Register, a senior HHS official told reporters that the exemptions are intended to provide full protection for those with religious beliefs and moral convictions because religious-liberty protections are central to American values.
The official also told reporters that, on issues of grave moral concern to Americans, where the issue of human life is at stake, policy needs to ensure that religious believers are not “punished” by the federal government. Such policy reflects authentic “tolerance” of divergent viewpoints, he said.
The new rule has sparked the ire of the usual opponents such as the National Women’s Law Center which has already vowed to challenge the Trump administration in court.
“The Trump administration is treating birth control as if it’s not even health care. We see this as part of the larger war they are waging on women’s health,” said Mara Gandal-Powers, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center to the Washington Post. “For some [women], it means choosing between preventive care like contraceptives and paying their rent, their mortgage, electric bill.”
In spite of the dire statements, as the Post reports, administration officials estimate that 120,000 women at most will lose access to free contraceptives — many is far fewer than critics predict.
For those involved in the years-long battle for the right to practice their faith without government interference, today’s announcement came as welcome news.
“For more than five years, the HHS contraception mandate has forced Americans to violate their deeply held moral and ethical principles, without regard for the Constitution’s guarantee of religious liberty,” said EWTN CEO Michael Warsaw.
“EWTN filed a lawsuit against the government in February 2012, just days after the mandate rules were first published, and we have continued to fight for justice alongside many courageous believers. We are encouraged by today’s announcement.”
The company is currently reviewing the new exemptions with their legal team to determine the impact this will have on their on-going legal challenges.
“ . . . [W]e are optimistic that this news will prove to be a step toward victory for the fundamental freedoms of many Americans,” Warsaw said.
“I invite Catholics, and all people of faith, to join me in continued prayer for our nation, for its leaders, and for the protection of liberty in the United States and around the world.”
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