Trump Admin Re-Issues Exemption Plan for Contraception Coverage

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by David Nussman  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  November 9, 2018   

Second attempt to roll out exemption to HHS mandate for employers with religious or non-religious objections

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WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Trump administration has finalized the rules for employers to be exempt from funding their workers' contraception.

In October 2017, President Donald Trump broadened the exemption policy of the Obama administration's now-infamous contraception mandate. The 2015 Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate required that employers pay for employees' contraceptives and abortifacients as part of health coverage. The HHS mandate featured a narrowly defined religious exemption, but some employers seeking this exemption were left with the daunting task of trying to prove their organization's religiosity in court.

The policy announced last year broadened exemptions to include moral objections in general — rather than only objections based on religion. These rules were thwarted in December 2017 when a federal judge in Pennsylvania issued an injunction against the policy change following a lawsuit by Pennsylvania and other left-leaning states.

Now, the broadened exemption policy is being rebooted — with changes that are mostly technical in nature. HHS announced the new "final" rules in a press statement released on Wednesday:

The first of today's final rules provides an exemption from the contraceptive coverage mandate to entities that object to services covered by the mandate on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs. The second final rule provides protections to nonprofit organizations and small businesses that have non-religious moral convictions opposing services covered by the mandate.

This twofold exemption policy — for "religious beliefs" and "non-religious moral convictions" — was likewise at the heart of the first set of rules put out last year.

When the Trump administration rolled out the new policy the first time last year, supporters of abortion and contraception took to social media to express their rage. A "hands off my birth control" hashtag (#handsoffmyBC) went viral on Twitter.

Catholics, conservatives and pro-lifers mocked the liberal outrage, with Matt Walsh arguing in one tweet from the time, "#handsoffmyBC is an interesting slogan considering that they're angry precisely because we've taken our hands off their birth control."

Pro-lifers were frustrated last December when the federal judge put the brakes on the Trump administration's broadened exemption policy for the HHS contraception mandate. For instance, Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said at the time, "This is a shameful ruling that seeks to continue the Obama-era assault on conscience rights and religious liberty."

Dannenfelser asked rhetorically, "Why should Catholic nuns who care for the elderly poor be forced by the government to provide abortion-inducing drugs in their healthcare plans?"

Why should Catholic nuns who care for the elderly poor be forced by the government to provide abortion-inducing drugs in their healthcare plans?

She was referring to the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor, whose legal battle against the HHS mandate made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The nuns won a partial victory in the nation's highest court when a 2016 ruling shot down lower courts' rulings, which had demanded that the women's religious order provide contraceptive and abortion coverage to employees at their care facilities. There were other defendants in the case as well, such as Priests for Life and the archdiocese of Washington. 

The U.S. Supreme Court heard another case on the matter in 2014's Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. In that landmark decision, the court ruled that the owners of Hobby Lobby — a crafts store chain — should not have to pay for their employees' so-called emergency contraceptives, owing to their sincerely held belief that human life begins at the moment of conception. The court argued this on the grounds that Hobby Lobby was officially recognized as a "closely held" corporation — limiting the kinds of corporations to which the ruling would apply.

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