Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a final rule that provided much-needed relief to employers who had religious or moral objections to birth control or certain forms of birth control. After the Affordable Care Act became law, HHS was tasked with interpreting the intentionally vague part of the law that mandated all insurance plans provide essential women’s health services. HHS, not Congress, determined that, among other things, all FDA-approved forms of birth control must be covered in employer insurance plans.
Although there were narrow exceptions to this mandate and several corporations were “grandfathered” in, the Obama Administration failed to respect the conscience rights of religious employers. This bureaucratic overreach forced companies like Hobby Lobby and religious non-profits like the Little Sisters of the Poor to fight for their religious freedom at the Supreme Court. The Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby’s request to provide 16 of the 20 forms of birth control, excluding only abortifacients (birth control that does not simply prevent conception, but prevents implantation of an embryo, therefore resulting in the loss of a unique human life).
The Obama Administration offered several accommodations to the Little Sisters of the Poor, but missed the mark with each one. In May 2017, the Trump Administration issued an interim final rule that provided relief to the Little Sisters. These new final rules are identical to the ones proposed in 2017 and respect the religious and moral objections of employers. This rule does not prevent the government from providing these services to women who want them; it is a necessary correction to the government’s overreach.