The Trump administration appears to be preparing to follow through on the president’s recent promise to relieve religious employers fighting the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate.
A leaked draft reveals plans for a new regulation to allow more companies and organizations to stop covering certain treatments—including birth control pills, emergency contraception, and sterilization—on religious and moral grounds.
The 125-page federal proposal was obtained by Vox, which reports that the document, dated May 23, is under review by the President’s Office of Management and Budget. The regulation would go into effect as soon as it is signed.
“Expanding the exemption removes religious and moral obstacles that entities and certain individuals may face who otherwise wish to participate in the healthcare market,” the draft rule states.
Obamacare initially provided an exemption for churches and other houses of worship, and Hobby Lobby won some private corporations the right to decline coverage for religious reasons in a 2014 Supreme Court case. The new regulation would apply more broadly to “any kind of employer,” including Christian colleges and religious orders, some of whom have been battling the mandate in court for years. Last year, the Supreme Court sent their cases back for more review.
The drafted regulation essentially spells out the case that contraception mandate opponents had been making all along. Officials previously saw the requirement as serving a compelling government interest, according to the new rule, but they now recognize the mandate as “impos(ing) a substantial burden on the exercise of religion” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“The appropriate administrative response is to create a broader exemption,” the draft rule states.
The rule does not represent a repeal of the mandate; without a religious case against contraception, the vast majority of employers would continue to be required to provide coverage.
Mark Rienzi, senior counsel with Becket—the religious liberty law firm representing the Little Sisters of the Poor—estimates that about 120,000 to 130,000 Americans working for religious employers would no longer receive birth control coverage under the draft rule.