Trump’s ‘religious liberty’ executive order has implications for Catholic hospitals, women’s healthcare

Donald Trump and foreign ties
President Trump signed a "religious liberty" order with implications for women's healthcare. (Gage Skidmore)

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Thursday aimed at allowing religious organizations to engage in more political activity, but the order also has implications for women’s healthcare.

Trump unveiled the order in a Rose Garden ceremony surrounded by religious leaders and said he would direct the Internal Revenue Service to relax enforcement of rules barring tax-exempt churches and religious organizations from participating in politics.

In addition, the order calls for unspecified “regulatory relief” for religious objectors to the Obama administration mandate that required contraception services as part of health plans.

That was viewed by many groups as an attack on women’s health.

“This action will jeopardize women’s health, equity and economic security by instructing the Department of Health and Human Services to effectively roll back a critical provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that requires coverage of women’s preventive health benefits,” Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, said in a statement.

Fifty-five million women have benefited from coverage of preventive services ranging from contraception to screening and counseling for domestic violence, as well as well-woman visits and breastfeeding support, she said.

NARAL Pro-Choice America agreed that the executive order will begin rolling back the ACA’s contraceptive coverage policy.

In a separate political blow to the ACA, the House of Representatives voted 217-213 yesterday to repeal and replace Obama’s healthcare law with a plan that now heads to the Senate.

As for the president's order, White House officials said it indicates that federal agencies will work to resolve concerns among religious organizations about the ACA regulations that require them to provide their employees with healthcare plans that cover contraception, which they say violates their religious beliefs.

Trump referenced the Little Sisters of the Poor during the ceremony and invited them up to the podium to join in the Rose Garden celebration. 

The organization brought a lawsuit against the Obama administration protesting rules about contraceptives. That case went to the Supreme Court, which, facing a 4-4 tie, sent it back to the lower courts

But the order isn’t clear on how the government will resolve those concerns. While he offered no details, HHS Secretary Tom Price said in a statement that his department "will be taking action in short order to follow the President’s instruction to safeguard the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans who provide health insurance to their employees.”

The number of Catholic-owned or affiliated hospitals in the country has grown by 22% since 2001, adding to fears about limited access to reproductive healthcare under Trump.

RELATED: Women’s March: Protesters fight for healthcare access, reproductive health

Since Trump’s election, many doctors and women have been worried about the future of abortion and reproductive rights. Thousands of protesters turned out in January as part of the Women’s March on Washington and in cities throughout the country to fight for healthcare access and reproductive rights.

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