Federal officials have drafted a rule to relax a requirement that religious employers grant birth control coverage in health insurance plans. The mandate for free contraceptive coverage was one of the most contested polices under the Affordable Care Act and generated many lawsuits by employers that cited religious objections.

The new rule would fulfill a campaign promise of President Donald Trump, who on May 4, issued an executive order telling three cabinet departments to consider amended regulations to "address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate." The order cites a section of Obamacare that specifically deals with preventative services for women.

"I will make absolutely certain religious orders like the Little Sisters of Poor are not bullied by the federal government because of their religious beliefs," Trump wrote in October in a letter to the leaders of Roman Catholic organizations.

The White House Office of Management and Budget said it is reviewing an "interim final rule" to ease the requirement and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price celebrated the opportunity to review the mandate. "We will be taking action in short order to follow the president's instruction to safeguard the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans who provide health insurance to their employees," he said in May, according to the New York Times.

But Democrats in Congress have promised to fight to keep the mandate, saying it has benefited over 50 million women. Last week, Senator Patty Murray from Washington and 13 other Democratic senators warned White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to stop efforts that could "undermine access to affordable preventive services, including contraception, for women," according to the New York Times.

"Women saved more than $1.4 billion in out-of-pocket costs for birth control in 2013 alone," the senators wrote on May 25, in a letter to Mulvaney. "Access to affordable preventive services, including contraception, is a critical part of women's health care."

Published on: May 30, 2017