The Trump administration announced today that employers will now be exempt from the federal requirement to provide insurance coverage for abortion-causing drugs in their health insurance plans if it conflicts with their sincerely held religious or moral beliefs. This now limits a rule created under the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act that required that employers, including non-church religious organizations, must cover all forms of contraception, from birth control pills to abortion drugs and devices at no cost to the employees.
The Trump administration stated legal reasons for issuing two rules: one for religious and the other for moral objections. The administration acknowledges that the Affordable Care Act law did not provide protection for nonreligious, moral conscientious objections as required by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Both rules would take effect as soon as they are on display at the office of the Federal Register.
Leading pro-life groups were delighted by the news.
“Today President Trump delivered a huge victory for conscience rights and religious liberty in America,” said SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser. “No longer will Catholic nuns who care for the elderly poor be forced by the government to provide abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans. Not only that, moral objectors such as the Susan B. Anthony List will also no longer have to pay for life-ending drugs that are antithetical to their mission and for which we have argued there is certainly no ‘compelling state interest.’”
Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Gregory S. Baylor said new rule that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued Friday that expands protections in the Obama-era abortion-pill mandate for organizations with pro-life religious or moral convictions. That mandate had forced many employers, regardless of those beliefs, to provide abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception under threat of heavy penalties by the Internal Revenue Service and other federal agencies if the mandate’s requirements weren’t met:
“The beliefs that inspire Christian colleges and universities and the Little Sisters of the Poor to serve their communities should be protected,” said Baylor. “During his campaign, President Trump promised that protecting religious liberty would be a top priority and people of faith would not be bullied on his watch. We are pleased that this rule is a major step forward in keeping that promise and restoring back to people of faith their constitutionally protected freedom. We are also pleased the rule protects the conscience convictions of organizations like March for Life, an organization that bases its pro-life beliefs on science and philosophy, and hosts the largest pro-life gathering in the world every year in Washington, D.C.”
“Although organizations that filed civil rights lawsuits will still need final relief from the courts, it is encouraging to see the Trump Administration affirm the principle that all Americans should be free to peacefully live and work according to their faith and conscience without threat of government punishment. Access to contraception and other drugs and devices will continue to be as widely and readily available as it always has been for those who want these items. We commend the president for his commitment to freedom and restoring the choice of religious and pro-life employers and their female employees to work at organizations consistent with their convictions. We expect that the Department of Justice will work with us to quickly resolve these cases in a manner that fully and permanently protects the freedom of conscience of our clients.”
Ashley McGuire, Senior Fellow with The Catholic Association also applauded the decision.
“It has been five long years since President Obama’s HHS hijacked the health insurance plans of most Americans in order to provide “free” birth control and abortifacients—in the process riding rough-shod over the consciences of religious and moral objectors. President Trump campaigned on a promise to bring relief from the mandate and its crushing fines, and with this act he delivers. Groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, who dedicate their lives to the indigent elderly, can finally expect the restitution of their conscience-rights in court. Americans who value the free exercise of religion and our country’s proud tradition of peaceful pluralism applaud the administration’s move.” Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, Policy Advisor with The Catholic Association.”
Alliance Defending Freedom President Mike Farris also weighed in.
“All Americans should have the freedom to peacefully live and work consistent with their faith without fear of government punishment. The guidance that the Trump administration issued today helps protect that First Amendment freedom. As the memo states, ‘Americans do not give up their freedom of religion by participating in the marketplace, partaking of the public square, or interacting with government,’ and ‘free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one’s religious beliefs.’ This guidance will help prevent families like the Vander Boons in Michigan who were threatened with the effective closure of their family-run business for simply expressing a religious point of view on marriage that differed from that of the federal government.”
He added: And it is another step toward fulfilling President Trump’s promise to protect a host of Christian colleges, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and others from having to choose between violating their consciences and paying crippling fines to the IRS. The guidance is on firm legal and constitutional ground. As it notes, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear in its recent 7-2 decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, singling out religious Americans for unequal treatment by the government ‘is odious to our Constitution…, and cannot stand.’ As CEO of the largest religious freedom legal organization in the world, I commend the president for taking another step to honor his campaign promise to make religious liberty his ‘first priority’ by directing the Department of Justice to issue this guidance, which simply directs the federal government to adhere to its legal and constitutional obligation to respect existing religious freedom protections.”
And Catherine Glenn Foster, President and CEO of Americans United for Life said: “Americans United for Life applauds the actions of the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that the right of conscientious employers and employees not to participate in or provide abortion-causing drugs is protected in law. Millions of Americans want no part of an insurance system that subsidizes the destruction of innocent human life, and HHS’s new interim regulation respects that principled stand.”