Federal officials, under orders by President Donald Trump, have drafted a rule to roll back the Obama-era mandate that birth control be included under all employer insurance plans.
The final shape of roll back is still uncertain: The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB)Â website saysÂ that it is reviewing the â€śinterim final ruleâ€ť to relax the requirements on preventative services. The rule change is specifically aimed at accommodations for religious organizations, some of whom have strongly objected to requirements that they include birth control coverage under their insurance for employees.
Typically, when an agency considers changing a rule?â€”?which can have immediate and sweeping policy impacts?â€”?they publish a preliminary version, solicit comments from the public, and incorporate the feedback into revisions before handing down the final change. If the OMB is reviewing the interim final rule, however, that means the rule has already been drafted by the relevant agencies and is in the last step before being published, according to theÂ National Womenâ€™s Law Center.
â€śWe think whatever the rule is, it will allow an employerâ€™s religious beliefs to keep birth control away from women. We are sure that some women will lose birth control coverage,â€ť Gretchen Borchelt, the vice president of the National Womenâ€™s Law Center,Â told the New York Times.
Under the current rules, implemented under President Obama, birth control coverage is considered part of preventative medical care and must be covered by all insurers with no co-pay. The mandate has guaranteed an estimatedÂ 55 million womenÂ access to birth control and other preventative services at no additional cost to them, regardless of their employer.
In 2013, the mandate saved women $1.4 billion on birth control pills, and since the law went into effect, there has been a nearly 5 percent uptick in birth control subscriptions,Â according to the NWLC. The increased access to contraceptives has also correlated withÂ a sharp dropÂ in unintended pregnancy and abortion rates.
These public health outcomes make it easy to see why the requirement has been widely lauded by womenâ€™s health advocates and providers.
â€śWithout question, contraception is an integral part of preventive care; women benefit from seamless, affordable access to contraception, and our health system benefits as well,â€ť the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) said in a statement about the mandate. â€śACOGÂ strongly believesÂ that contraception is an essential part of womenâ€™s preventive care, and that any accommodation to employersâ€™ beliefs must not impose barriers to womenâ€™s ability to access contraception.â€ť
The law has been hotly contested, however, by religious organizations who object to having to include birth control in their insurance plans. Trump seized on their complaints while campaigning for the presidency, and in early May, fulfilled his pledges to evangelical Christian supporters by handing down an executive order on â€śreligious freedomâ€ť that aimed to do two things: To make it easier for faith leaders to preach politics, and to allow employers to claim a religious exemption against providing contraceptive coverage for their employees.
Trump made the proclamation alongside representatives of Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns who have been some of the most vocal opponents of Obamacareâ€™s mandate that insurance include birth control coverage?â€”?taking the fight up all the way up to theÂ Supreme Court.
â€śYour long ordeal will soon be over,â€ťÂ Trump toldÂ them when he announced the order.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price immediately issued a statement saying that heâ€™d be happy to take have the opportunity to reshape the requirements on birth control coverage.
â€śWe welcome todayâ€™s executive order directing the Department of Health and Human Services to reexamine the previous administrationâ€™s interpretation of the Affordable Care Actâ€™s preventive services mandate, and commend President Trump for taking a strong stand for religious liberty,â€ť he said in a press relief.
Price hasÂ long beenÂ a vocal critic of the birth control mandate on grounds of religious freedom, and has also been dismissive of its benefit to women.
â€śBring me one woman who has been left behind. Bring me one. Thereâ€™s not one,â€ť Price said about women having trouble paying for birth control in an interview with ThinkProgressÂ in 2012. â€śThe fact of the matter is this is a trampling on religious freedom and religious liberty in this country.â€ť
According to a recent survey by polling form PerryUndem, 33 percent of American women said they couldnâ€™t afford to pay any more than a $10 copay for their birth control. Fourteen percent said that if they had to pay for birth control at all, they couldnâ€™t afford it.
This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on May 30, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laurel Raymond is a reporter for ThinkProgress. Previously, she worked for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and served as a Fulbright scholar at Gaziantep University in southeast Turkey. She holds a B.A. in English and a B.S. in brain and cognitive sciences from the University of Rochester, and is originally from Richmond, Vermont.