Politics & Policy

Why Trump Should Put an End to Obama’s Contraception Mandate

Nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor outside the Supreme Court in March. (Reuters photo: Joshua Roberts)
The Trump administration is right to offer actual religious exemptions to the contraception mandate.

If this week’s news is any indication, yet another piece of Barack Obama’s divisive legacy is about to be disassembled. This time, it’s the highly controversial Health and Human Services mandate, which was tacked on to the Affordable Care Act to require that employer insurance plans cover contraception at no cost to employees.

Since the mandate’s initial rollout, there has been virtually no middle ground in public opinion. Those on the left have largely hailed it as a measure to rescue women from the Dark Ages, guaranteeing access to the human right of free birth control.

On the right, outrage came primarily from two quarters: First, from religious employers with conscience objections to providing contraception, including abortifacient drugs; and second, from conservatives who don’t believe the government has the right to force businesses to provide particular types of health-care coverage at all.

It’s almost too easy to dismiss the common Democratic claim that the mandate offered an exemption to religious employers. Just consider the fact that this “exemption” was so narrow as to exclude the Little Sisters of the Poor, an organization of charitable Catholic nuns.

In the wake of news that the Trump administration will likely act soon to accommodate employers with religious or conscience objections to the mandate, the Left has descended into an immediate furor, insisting that the president cannot be allowed to get away with politicizing an issue as apolitical and universally important as free birth control.

But it wasn’t Donald Trump who suddenly transformed birth control into a political issue. That was President Obama, who made contraception a central component of his 2012 reelection, evidently intent upon using free birth control as a campaign promise to garner votes. He didn’t seem to mind that his promise would be fulfilled at the expense of Catholic nuns and others like them, who were denied their free-exercise rights as a result.

President Obama’s campaign generated plenty of rhetoric about the necessity of free contraception, but the ploy was clear enough: Promise free giveaways, reap the benefit of public support. And Obama was as good as his word after he won reelection, asking the HHS Department to shoehorn an executive-branch rule into the Affordable Care Act that implicitly targeted religious business owners, forcing them to provide contraception in violation of their faith.

This was a starkly political issue long before Donald Trump and his administration arrived on the scene. If progressives are outraged over the supposed “politicization” of birth control, they should take it up with Obama, whose administration invented the fiction that contraception is a human right and forced it on the entire country.

If progressives are outraged over the supposed ‘politicization’ of birth control, they should take it up with Obama.

Before this mandate, it was widely accepted that contraception was one health-care issue among many, one that might or might not be covered by various insurance plans, whether as the result of employers’ religious beliefs or not. Before this mandate, a variety of birth-control methods were cheaply available at nearly all drugstores, and they will remain cheaply available if the mandate is rolled back.

Neither before nor after Obama’s HHS imposed this mandate did the Left offer a convincing argument as to why birth control — above all other health-care procedures and treatments — was so essential that the government could compel business owners, regardless of conscience, to provide it for free to their employees. And yet, because of Obama, our government mandated exactly that.

As progressives issue a collective gasp at the prospect of turning contraceptives into a political issue, remember that the Left politicized it to begin with, and they did so intentionally. Without making it political, Obama couldn’t have wielded the issue as a cudgel to intimidate religious business owners into accepting and promoting the Left’s vision of sexuality. He couldn’t have enshrined the mistaken progressive belief that contraception is a human right and a cornerstone of female empowerment.

Not only is the Trump administration right to offer actual religious exemptions to the contraception mandate, but the president ought to take it a step further. Trump should instruct his HHS department to roll back the mandate in its entirety, as he has repeatedly promised to do, ending this disastrous exercise in executive overreach. If he does, it will restore much-needed balance to this issue and, just like the Left is clamoring for, de-politicize it.

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