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WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - In a major blow to Obamacare, President Trump is announcing new measures that significantly weaken the HHS Contraceptive Mandate. In another move that's received backlash from liberals, the Department of Justice is also issuing guidelines rejecting transgender rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
On Friday, the Trump administration officially broadened the exemption policy of the Obama administration's now-infamous contraception mandate. The 2015 Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rule required that all employers pay for employees' contraceptives and abortifacients. The HHS mandate featured a religious exemption, but some employers seeking this exemption found themselves left with the daunting task of trying to prove their organization's religiosity in court.
An unnamed HHS official told D.C. political news outlet The Hill, "We should have space for organizations to live out their religious ideas and not face discrimination because of their religious ideas. That was the case beforehand, and that ends today."
Friday's policy change, effective immediately, significantly broadens the possibility for exemptions. Employers now can be exempt from providing contraceptives and abortifacients as long as they possess "religious or moral objections." The previous exemption policy only allowed for religious objections by religious organizations.
Employers seeking an exemption will no longer have to submit government paperwork, either. They are only required to inform their employees that their medical coverage does not include contraceptives and abortifacients.
This move follows an executive order President Trump signed in April, which ordered the HHS department to rethink the contraception mandate. A leaked document in August indicated that this was still the president's intention.
Leftists and anti-Catholics are blasting the president, with the left-leaning American Civil Liberties Union threatening a lawsuit. A "hands off my birth control" hashtag (#handsoffmyBC) has gone viral on Twitter. Some tweets with the hashtag complain that birth control will be harder to obtain than a firearm, but a simple comparison of prices would suggest otherwise.
In response to the uproar, conservative writer Matt Walsh tweeted "#handsoffmyBC is an interesting slogan considering that they're angry precisely because we've taken our hands off their birth control."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a press statement titled "HHS Mandate Decision Represents Return to Common Sense." The document argues that the rollback "is no innovation, but instead a return to common sense, long-standing federal practice and peaceful coexistence between Church and state."
In a press conference Friday afternoon, responding to a question about the new HHS exemption policy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that "as long as Donald Trump is president," he will uphold the Constitutional right to religious liberty.
Also on Friday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote to federal agencies, instructing them to respect religious freedom, referring to the change in exemption policy.
And in an article Thursday, Buzzfeed News claimed they had obtained a memo sent out on Wednesday by Sessions stating, "Title VII's prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status."
Title VII was a section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that condemns sex discrimination. Historically, this was always understood as referring to unjust discrimination between men and women. But in 2014, the Department of Justice under the Obama administration decided that Title VII's language about sex discrimination also applies to discrimination against those who identify as transgenders — a completely novel interpretation with no legal precedent.
Sessions writes, "Although federal law, including Title VII, provides various protections to transgender individuals, Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity per se."
The attorney general nuanced this decision by affirming, "The Justice Department must and will continue to affirm the dignity of all people, including transgender individuals."
He continues, "Nothing in this memorandum should be construed to condone mistreatment on the basis of gender identity or to express a policy view on whether Congress should amend Title VII to provide different or additional protections."
LGBT activist lawyer Sharon McGowan is opposed to the move. She told Buzzfeed News that, in her view, "The memo is devoid of discussion of the way case law has been developing in this area for the last few years."
McGowan also accused Sessions of "trying to roll back the clock and pretend that the progress of the last decade hasn't happened."
The attorney general is revoking the Obama administration's policy on the grounds that the Department of Justice is charged with enforcing the law, not changing policy. The memo argues, "This is a conclusion of law, not policy. As a law enforcement agency, the Department of Justice must interpret Title VII as written by Congress."
Supporters of Sessions' decision believe this move will help protect faith-based organizations and employers with religious faith from facing discrimination lawsuits when they decline to endorse transgenderism.