In early May, President Donald J. Trump fulfilled a campaign promise by signing an executive order that was aimed at allowing bosses and universities to use religion as an excuse to deny their employees and students insurance coverage for contraception.
Within hours, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price promised to take action “in short order” to carry out Trump’s directive. And less than a month later, The New York Times has now confirmed that federal officials are finalizing a new regulation to do so.
Religious freedom is a fundamental American value. It gives us all the right to believe—or not—as we see fit. But it doesn’t give anyone the right to harm or discriminate against others. Denying women access to contraception in the name of religion is discrimination, plain and simple.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare) includes a provision that requires most employers and universities to provide health-insurance plans that cover birth control with no co-pay. This policy was adopted to improve access to birth control, which is vital to women’s health and equality. Nonetheless, many religiously affiliated institutions (including some prominent universities) and owners of for-profit corporations argued that the policy violates their religious freedom.
In response, the government created an accommodation for non-profits with religious objections (and since expanded it to for-profit companies following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision). Under this accommodation, non-profit organizations need only complete a short form to opt out of providing contraception coverage, and the government will work with third-party insurance companies to provide the coverage at no cost to affected women. Yet attacks on contraception coverage persist as some non-profits argue that even having to request the opt-out violates their religious freedom.
Their objections were voiced in a series of cases filed throughout the country, which eventually made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court. A year ago, the high court essentially took a pass on dealing with the important question of access to birth control and sent the cases back down to the lower courts, where they have languished ever since.
On Thursday, the federal government has to update a federal appeals court in one of these cases, University of Notre Dame v. Price—and now it seems like it has something to report. According to The Times, the new rule, which would go into effect immediately, is expected to “roll back” the coverage requirement, potentially leaving countless women without access to birth control.
Americans United also has to provide an update to the court in this case on behalf of the Notre Dame students we represent. They are the only women whose coverage is at risk who are actual parties to one of these cases. The Trump administration’s new rule could cause serious harm. But we will continue to fight for our clients and others like them to ensure that their bosses and their universities can’t deny them access to birth control under the guise of religious freedom.