Dems Introduce Bill to Curtail Trump’s Expanded Contraceptive Mandate Exemption

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Nineteen Senate Democrats have signed on to a bill that would block President Donald Trump's expansion of conscience exemption to Obamacare's contraceptive coverage mandate.

Four Democrats are expected to introduce similar legislation in the House, the Hill reports.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration fulfilled its promise to expand exemption when the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued new rules carving out exceptions for would-be insurance providers who have religious or moral objections to providing contraception.

Obamacare's initial rule allowed exemptions for only "houses of worship," compelling religiously affiliated organizations with objections to contraception to nonetheless pay for it in their employees' health insurance. A subsequent accommodation—allowing employers to opt out of paying for contraception directly, while still paying for health insurance overall—was deemed unacceptable by religious employers.

The contraceptive mandate prompted extensive litigation, leading to a decisive win for religious claimants in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores. Further litigation in Zubik v. Burwell was ongoing at the time of the new HHS rule, but is now unlikely to continue.

Groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have filed suit against the Trump administration, alleging that the new rule unconstitutionally permits employers to discriminate against women.

For Democrats, the new Trump rule signifies an imposition of "ideology" over the health and financial well-being of American women.

"President Trump wants to make birth control about ideology, but let's be clear: for women and their families in the 21st century, birth control is about being healthy and financially secure—and that's why Democrats are going to keep fighting back against his shameful attacks on women with this bill and any other way we can," said Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Health Committee.

To others, however, the Trump rule is a much-needed corrective to an unreasonable situation.

"This was always a big, unnecessary, and divisive culture war fight," said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented religious objectors including the Little Sisters of the Poor Catholic nun order. "Simply put, you don't need nuns to give out contraceptives. They're widely available. And until 2011 or so nobody even thought of the idea that the right way to get contraceptives to people was to force nuns to be involved."

The administration, for its part, expects the new rule to have little to no impact on women's access to contraception—it projects that just 200 entities will seek exemption, leaving 99.9 percent of U.S. women unaffected.

It is unlikely that either bill will become law, given the Republican majority's strong support for the newly expanded exemption rule.

Charles Fain Lehman

Charles Fain Lehman   Email Charles | Full Bio | RSS
Charles Fain Lehman is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He writes about policy, especially crime, law, drugs, and social issues. Reach him on twitter (@CharlesFLehman) or by email at lehman@freebeacon.com.

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