White House prepares to roll back birth control mandate

According to a draft of the Trump administration’s policies on preventative healthcare coverage recently leaked by Vox, the White House is expected to roll back the birth control mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

In what appears to be a victory for religious groups, the policy would allow any employer, including colleges and health insurance companies, to seek an exemption from providing insurance plans offering birth control to female employees, on moral or religious grounds.

The contraceptive mandate currently allows thousands of women across the country to access birth control through employer-provided insurance plans without out-of-pocket costs. As a result, 67 percent of insured women have access to birth control for free. But ever since the mandate took effect, religious groups have fought to qualify it as an infringement of an employers’ right to freedom of religion.

The American Civil Liberties Union has already threatened to sue the Trump administration if these policies take effect. They argue that the roll back would allow employers to use religion as a means to discriminate against women, and that prioritizing Christian values over a women’s right to bodily autonomy is unconstitutional.

“We think that’s unconstitutional, both in terms of separation of church and state and discrimination against women,” Brigitte Amiri, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project, told The Hill.

We must remind ourselves that freedom of religion refers to the right to individual expression, rather than forcing others to live according to your beliefs. Still, the Supreme Court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that private businesses and churches are exempt from the birth control mandate. The Trump administration’s exemption policy could take effect as soon as it receives approval from the Office of Management and Budget, which is currently reviewing the rule. It’s unclear at this time when the office will complete its evaluation of the policy, and if it will make any change to the current draft.

A study from earlier this year revealed the shockingly powerful economic benefits of widening access to birth control, which would substantially slash natal, maternal and child health care costs for low-income women with unintended pregnancies. Whereas the contraceptive mandate was a step in the right direction, the Trump administration’s decision to dismantle the policy represents a sizable step backwards — and one that could have disastrous consequences for low-income women.