TRENTON — In its latest broadside against the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration Friday gave employers the choice to stop providing contraceptive coverage if they say it violates their religious or moral beliefs.
The widely anticipated move unleashed a torrent of criticism from Democrats in New Jersey and beyond. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging the rule change.
“I can’t think of any reason outside of mean-spiritedness, partisanship and anti-women animus that we’d roll back this essential access to care,” Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-12. “Thanks to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage mandate more than 55 million women have access to birth control without cost. We cannot rollback this progress.
The executive director of the state’s leading anti-abortion rights organization, accused opponents of overreacting.
“Although we will no doubt hear all kinds of hysterical rhetoric from Obama supporters, this rule restores fairness and religious liberty to all Americans,” Marie Tasy of New Jersey Right to Life.
“It will only affects entities who have a religious objection to providing mandated coverage and will not affect programs that currently provide this coverage to low income women,” Tasy said. “It also reflects a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that held that the Obama mandate violated the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act by substantially burdening the exercise of religion.”
In announcing the changes which protect “the conscience rights of all Americans,” the Trump administration at the same time minimized the rule’s impact.
“The regulation leaves in place preventive services coverage guidelines where no religious or moral objection exists — meaning out of the millions of employers in the U.S., these exemptions may impact only about 200 entities, the number that filed lawsuits based on religious and moral objections,” according to the announcement.
“These rules will not affect over 99.9 percent of the 165 million women in the United States,” according to the announcement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Attorney for the ACLU and Democratic lawmakers sharply disagreed, saying the rule provides a path to discriminate against millions of women who have been able to obtain contraceptives without a co-payment.
“The Trump Administration is forcing women to pay for their boss’s religious beliefs,” ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Brigitte Amiri said in a statement. “We’re filing this lawsuit because the federal government cannot authorize discrimination against women in the name of religion or otherwise.”
Rep. Frank Pallone D-6, said the rule, which takes effect immediately, takes another step toward President Trump “rolling back the clock on women’s health.”
“The ACA’s birth control benefit ensured women could have coverage for the full range of contraceptives without copayments, deductibles, or other out-of-pocket costs, and has served as a critical preventive health tool to enable more women to plan if and when to have children.”
Coleman added that contraceptives do more than prevent pregnancy. “Contraceptives have benefits beyond pregnancy prevention – treating thousands of women for medical conditions like endometriosis,” she said.
Gov. Chris Christie brushed aside a question about the rule change during an unrelated press conference Friday afternoon, saying he hadn’t read anything about the rule change yet.
A spokeman for the New Jersey Business and Industry Association said the organization also expected the impact to be minimal.
“The bottom line is we don’t have any data from our members on this because New Jersey law has required coverage for contraceptives since 2005,” Bob Considine, the spokesman said. “All commercial market employer health plans were already required to provide the benefit.”
It was not immediately clear whether this state mandate applied to insurance plans regulated by the state or self-insured, federally regulated plans.