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Trump administration announces rollback of Obamacare birth control mandate

Nuns supporting the Little Sisters of the Poor attend a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2016 in Washington, D.C. A lawyer for the group said the new rule from the Trump administration is a “commonsense and balanced rule” that keeps the contraceptive mandate in place “for virtually all employers” while respecting moral objections. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The Trump administration announced Friday that it would expand exemptions to an Obamacare mandate requiring employers to cover birth control in their health insurance plans without a co-pay.

The exemptions

The so-called “HHS mandate” had narrow exemptions for churches and houses of worship. The Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns who care for the elderly poor, among other religious organizations, sued the Obama administration seeking an exemption from the mandate. Catholic Church teaching forbids the use of artificial contraception.

According to The Hill, under the new rule, any employer or insurer can be exempt from the mandate on both moral and religious grounds. It takes effect immediately.

How will this impact the Little Sisters of the Poor?

In remarks to reporters, Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at Becket and lead attorney for the Little Sisters of the Poor, said the new rule is a “commonsense and balanced rule” that keeps the contraceptive mandate in place “for virtually all employers” while respecting moral objections.

Rienzi emphasized that the rule doesn’t end the Little Sisters’ lawsuit and they “still need relief in court.”

“[That] should be easy now that the government admits it broke the law,” he said.

He argued that Catholic nuns should never have been expected to provide contraceptives to begin with.

“You don’t need nuns to give out contraceptives,” Rienzi said. “They’re widely available.”

Reaction from pro-life groups

In a statement, Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, said her organization “applauds the actions of the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that the right of conscientious employers and employees not to participate in or provide abortion-causing drugs is protected in law.”

“Millions of Americans want no part of an insurance system that subsidizes the destruction of innocent human life, and HHS’s new interim regulation respects that principled stand,” Foster said.

Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement, “Today President Trump delivered a huge victory for conscience rights and religious liberty in America.”

“The Obama Administration’s repeated violations of conscience were deeply contrary to the core of our nation, which was built on the foundation of respect for the individual freedoms of the people and deeply held religious beliefs," Dannenfelser added. "We thank President Trump for fulfilling a core promise to voters of faith and conscience who elected him.”

Reaction from pro-choice groups

In a fundraising email, Planned Parenthood President and CEO Cecile Richards said, "The Trump administration just took direct aim at birth control coverage for 62.4 million women."

"Now, President Trump and his cronies want to undo all that progress," Richards wrote. "The extremists who control the Department of Health and Human Services are hell-bent on taking away access to basic health care any way they can."

NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement, “Donald Trump’s latest dictate is a perfect execution of his passions: controlling women and robbing people of health care.”

Hogue said, “the anti-choice GOP is trying to impose a radical world view on the country.”

“In their world, women should not be able to prevent pregnancy, choose an abortion, or have support in raising families,” she said. “Birth control is the key to our ability to stay healthy, take care of our planned families, and contribute to our communities and society — all things that this GOP apparently stands in opposition to.”

“But giving our bosses decision-making power over whether and which birth control we can have goes the extra mile to be destructive and demeaning. Donald Trump is flat-out wrong and going against public well-being and public opinion on this,” she continued. “He should reverse course immediately.”

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