A pair of injunctions in the Northern District of California on January 13, and the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on January 14, halted the implementation of amendments to a religious exemption to the so-called contraception “mandate” of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The “mandate” requires most employers to include contraception coverage in the insurance plans they offer to employees. While Obama administrative agencies contemplated religious exemptions early on, contentious litigation and political transition expanded the scope of the exemption until these latest developments.
The Trump administration has established a new division within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) called the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division. The stated purpose of this office is to “restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom.”
One day after the creation of this division, HHS proposed a new rule, providing further protections to healthcare workers who object to providing certain types of care to patients—including elective sterilization, gender reassignment surgery, or emergency contraception—based on their personal religious beliefs. Additionally, the Trump administration issued a new directive, reversing an Obama administration directive which prohibited states from refusing to send federal funds to qualified providers. This new division, new rule, and new directive serve to ensure the already-existing rights of physicians, nurses, and healthcare staff at the expense of their patients.