The US government has allowed more employers to opt out of providing insurance to cover women's birth control. Some hail the measure as a "religious freedom" win, while others say it harms women's health care.
US President Donald Trump's administration announced on Friday that more employers will now be able to obtain an exemption from providing no-cost birth control for women on the grounds of religious or moral objections.
The long-expected revision is Trump's latest step towards rolling back former US President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. The healthcare law required most companies to cover birth control for women as preventative care.
Officials said two new federal rules would now allow any non-profit or for-profit entity to obtain the exemption to the contraception mandate on "the basis of moral conviction." The revision also allows publically traded companies to obtain an exemption.
Previously, the exemption only applied to religiously-affiliated nonprofit groups, houses of worship and private companies closely held by religious groups.
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It remained unclear exactly how many women would lose contraception coverage and which companies would now take advantage of the exemptions. A majority of businesses in the US are secular, meaning the impact of Trump's revision could be minimal.
Since contraception became a covered benefit, the number of women employees paying for their own birth control pills plunged from 21 percent to under 4 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
It should also be noted that birth control pills aren't solely used to prevent pregnancy. Many women are prescribed hormonal contraceptives to manage debilitating periods, ovarian cysts and painful disorders such as endometriosis.
Rollback a 'new low'
The administration's announcement, which takes effect immediately, was welcomed by Trump's conservative Christian voter base and Republican lawmakers.
House Speaker Paul Ryan cheered the decision, calling it "a landmark day for religious liberty."
"All Americans should have the freedom to peacefully live and work consistent with their faith without fear of government punishment," the conservative Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom said in a statement.
Women's rights groups, legal advocates and Democrats opposed the measure, saying that it could negatively impact millions of women.
Democrat Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement: "This administration's contempt for women reaches a new low with this appalling decision to enable employers and health plans to deny women basic coverage for contraception."
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told Reuters news agency that he was "prepared to take whatever action it takes" to defend the contraception mandate.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists warned that Trump's new policy could reverse recent progress that has been made in reducing the national rate of unintended pregnancies.
rs/jm (AP, Reuters)