This morning, the Health & Human Services Department announced it will drastically narrow its contraceptive mandate by providing further religious and moral exemptions to employers. Implemented under the Obama administration, the mandate has for several years required employer insurance plans to provide birth control at no cost to employees.
The move comes after a summer of intense speculation that the Trump administration planned to curtail the mandate altogether. Today’s announcement restores religious free-exercise and freedom of conscience to countless organizations and employers, many of whom were never exempted from the mandate despite their moral objections to providing birth control and abortifacient drugs.
After conservatives and people of faith objected strenuously to the mandate during Barack Obama’s presidency, his administration offered extremely limited exemptions that applied only to a tiny class of religious groups. The absurd narrowness of those religious exceptions is illustrated most potently by the fact that the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of charitable Catholic nuns, somehow didn’t qualify for an exemption.
Under today’s revised rule, both non-profit and for-profit organizations will be able to qualify for exemptions. Publicly traded for-profits will qualify for religious exemptions, while closely held for-profits and non-profits will also be allowed to apply for an exemption if they have moral objections to providing contraceptives.
Institutions of higher education and insurance companies will be permitted to apply for religious exemptions as long as they provide at least one plan to entities or individuals who themselves have an exemption based on religious or moral objections.
Crucially, the HHS has also eliminated the requirement that exempted organizations submit a form requesting that a third party provide birth control in their stead. Many religious employers insisted that this requirement still forced groups to be complicit in providing services they believed to be immoral.
Many on the left are predictably outraged at this rule change, claiming that it amounts to an attack on women’s fundamental right to contraception free of personal cost. But these outraged parties should remember that it wasn’t the Right or the Trump administration that transformed contraception into a political issue.
That process was orchestrated by the Left in 2012, when Obama’s reelection campaign blatantly used birth control as a political tool to advance the divisive rhetoric of conservatives’ supposed “War on Women.” Obama and his supporters made contraception a central component of his campaign, essentially promising free birth control to garner votes. Neither the president nor his acolytes seemed to care a whit that his promise would be fulfilled at the expense of Catholic nuns and other minorities whose religious beliefs were violated in the process.
Indeed, the politicization of birth control began not with the GOP, but with the corrupt administration that invented and peddled the ridiculous fiction that “free” contraception is a human right. Before the HHS mandate, contraception was considered just one piece of the health-care debate, and it was generally understood that, because a variety of birth-control methods were cheaply available at nearly all drugstores, employers shouldn’t be coerced into providing it on their own dime.
And yet to this day, despite the ongoing furor over this issue, the Left has never once offered a truly compelling argument as to why birth control — above all other health-care procedures and treatments — is somehow so essential that it requires the government to compel employers, regardless of conscience, to provide it for free.
So as progressives descend into yet another hysterical frenzy at this morning’s news, remember that they politicized this issue to begin with, and they did so intentionally for political gain. Leftists, not conservatives and not Donald Trump, used contraception as a cudgel to intimidate religious Americans into accepting and promoting the left-wing vision of sexuality. If the Left truly believed that “free” contraception is their hill to die on, they ought to have passed this mandate properly through Congress rather than tacking it onto the Affordable Care Act through the regulatory bureaucracy and using it to target sympathetic organizations such as the Little Sisters.
Today is a huge victory for those nuns, and for all employers and individuals whose faith was infringed upon by the Obama administration’s mandate. But given the appalling history of this issue, perhaps the HHS hasn’t gone quite far enough. If the Trump administration were to roll back this unfortunate mandate in its entirety, it would successfully terminate yet another of Obama’s disastrous exercises in executive overreach, restoring balance and, just as the Left is loudly demanding today, de-politicizing birth control for good.