Officials in President Donald Trump’s administration are working on a new rule to protect religious groups from the HHS mandate, which otherwise could force them to provide birth control, including forms that may cause abortions, to their employees.
The draft rule is the latest in a series of steps by the Trump administration to protect religious liberty. Earlier this month, Trump signed an executive order to protect religious organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor from being forced to pay for abortions and birth control.
The New York Times reports the new draft rule would expand protections further than the executive order. The White House Office of Management and Budget is reviewing the “interim final rule,” according to the report.
Pro-abortion President Barack Obama’s administration granted exceptions to the Affordable Care Act HHS mandate to giant corporations like Pepsi, Visa and Chevron, but refused to give any to religious groups like the Little Sisters or Hobby Lobby, which is owned by a Christian family. Instead, it forced them to challenge the mandate at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Here’s more from the report:
The new rule will fulfill a campaign pledge by Mr. Trump. “I will make absolutely certain religious orders like the Little Sisters of Poor are not bullied by the federal government because of their religious beliefs,” he said in October in a letter to leaders of Roman Catholic organizations.
Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, welcomed the opportunity to re-examine the preventive-services mandate. “We 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,” he said this month.
Abortion advocacy groups said they are preparing to challenge the rule. Gretchen Borchelt, a vice president of the National Women’s Law Center, told the newspaper her group already has a lawsuit in the works for the proposed rule.
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“We think whatever the rule is, it will allow an employer’s religious beliefs to keep birth control away from women,” Borchelt said.
Earlier this month, Trump signed an executive order instructing his administration to “provide regulatory relief for religious objectors to Obamacare’s burdensome preventive services mandate, a position supported by the Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby.”
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who was at the White House for the signing ceremony, said the executive order was a step in the right direction.
“… the federal government realizes the immoral and insane mandate that forces organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor to include contraception and abortifacients in their healthcare plans,” Perkins said. “This step today starts the process of reversing the devastating trend set by the last administration to punish charities, pastors, family owned businesses and honest, hard-working people simply for living according to their faith.”
Last year, the Little Sisters of the Poor challenged the HHS mandate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, along with 37 other religious groups. The mandate compels religious groups to pay for birth control, drugs that may cause abortions and sterilizations. Without relief, the Little Sisters would face millions of dollars in IRS fines.
While arguing publicly that religious groups should be forced to comply with the HHS Mandate, the Obama administration quietly exempted several major companies from those same rules. Lawyers for the religious groups used this point to argue against the federal government’s overarching mandate, The Catholic News Agency reported at the time.
“The Little Sisters spend their lives taking care of the neediest members of our society —that is work our government should applaud, not punish,” said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, in 2016. “The Little Sisters should not have to fight their own government to get an exemption it has already given to thousands of other employers, including big companies like Exxon and Pepsi Cola Bottling Company.”