Leaked draft of birth-control coverage rule draws ire, praise

A recently leaked draft of a federal rule would expand the number of employers who could apply for an exemption to the ACA's contraceptive coverage mandate. (Getty/areeya_ann)

Fresh details about the Trump administration’s plans to alter the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage mandate have drawn condemnation from the left and praise from the right.

A recent post on the Office of Management and Budget’s website revealed that the agency is reviewing a draft rule concerning “coverage of certain preventive services under the Affordable Care Act.”

A draft of the rule obtained by Vox revealed that as expected, it focuses on expanding employer exemptions from the ACA’s requirement that they cover birth control in the health insurance policies they provide to employees.

Though the regulation could still change, the leaked version would let any employer—including large, publicly traded companies—apply for an exemption to the contraceptive coverage mandate on religious or moral grounds, the publication noted. Moreover, that exemption process would be significantly eased, requiring employers only to notify their employees before cutting coverage for contraception—they would not need to notify the government beforehand.

Democrats and some advocacy groups were not pleased with that revelation.

“President Trump’s sickening plan to roll back women’s access to contraception would deny millions of women access to basic, preventative healthcare,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said.

The American Civil Liberties Union also came out swinging, with Deputy Legal Director Louise Melling saying that the draft rule is an “attempt at allowing religion to be used as a license to discriminate.”

But conservative groups like the Family Research Council hailed the draft rule.

“While this apparent leaked document is a draft, it is a very positive sign to see the federal government work to cease its hostility toward Christians and those who object to the Obama-era healthcare mandates,” said the group’s president, Tony Perkins.

The draft rule comes in the wake of an executive order that President Donald Trump issued earlier this month, which directed federal officials to consider amending regulations to address “conscience-based objections” to the ACA’s contraceptive mandate. HHS Secretary Tom Price responded by saying his agency welcomed the chance to consider changing the rules.

The ACA’s contraceptive coverage mandate has long been the subject of legal challenges by religious employers, who argued it infringed on their right to religious liberty. They won a major victory in 2014, when the Supreme Court ruled that family-owned, private businesses that object to covering employees’ birth control could apply for an exemption. But legal wrangling continued after some groups contended that concession didn’t go far enough.

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