Trump’s ‘Religious Liberty’ Order Threatens Women’s Health, Experts Say

Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy
Contributing Writer
The Trump-issued executive order does away with guaranteed birth control coverage for employees of religiously owned institutions, but it also goes a step further. (Photo: Trunk Archives)

On Thursday, President Trump signed the Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty. The order loosens the tax code so religious organizations are no longer prohibited from overtly supporting or campaigning against political candidates.

“We are giving our churches their voices back,” Trump said.

But the executive order also contains a provision directing federal agencies to exempt religiously affiliated employers from having to provide birth control coverage through their insurance plans offered to their employees.

This exemption stands in direct opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known colloquially as Obamacare, which mandates that all insurance plans must include coverage for contraception as an essential health benefit. The Obama administration had also issued a rule providing a way for religious institutions to be exempt from providing contraception coverage themselves, while still not denying their employees the ability to access this coverage.

The Trump-issued executive order not only does away with all that — the exemption for employers and guarantee of coverage for employees of religiously owned institutions —  it potentially takes things even further. In response to today’s executive order, Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tom Price has issued a statement saying that the order will prompt HHS to “reexamine the previous administration’s interpretation of the Affordable Care Act’s preventive services mandate.” Price also stated that “[r]eligious liberty is our country’s first freedom” and “commend[ed] President Trump for taking a strong stand for religious liberty.”

Gretchen Borchelt, the vice president for reproductive rights and health at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), tells Yahoo Beauty that it isn’t just birth control coverage that is at risk because of the new executive order, but, as Price alluded to, all forms of preventive care guaranteed under the ACA.

Screenings for sexually transmitted infection, HIV, and domestic violence, and well-woman visits that included care for trans individuals, could also be excluded for employees of religious institutions.

“There are women’s preventative services that go beyond birth control that are now at stake if employers can decide that their religious beliefs stand in opposition to these things, or if they think they can hide their cost concerns behind the pretense of religious and moral beliefs,” Borchelt says, adding, “if you let bosses take away coverage of critical preventative services like birth control and STI screenings — that’s discriminatory.”

Indeed, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has already announced its intention to file suit against the Trump administration because of the alleged unconstitutionality of the executive order.

In a statement, Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the ACLU, said, “America is a deeply religious country because religious freedom and tolerance of divergent religious views thrive. President Trump’s efforts to promote religious freedom are thinly veiled efforts to unleash his conservative religious base into the political arena while also using religion to discriminate. It’s a dual dose of pandering to a base and denying reproductive care. We will see Trump in court, again.”

Today’s executive order stipulates that the attorney general, former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, is to offer guidance on issues of religious liberty.

Claire Markham, associate director of the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress, tells Yahoo Beauty that because today’s executive order provides a framework for undermining the preventative services mandate in the ACA as an issue of religious liberty, “the real concern is that we don’t know what the end of that slippery slope is. There are a wide range of religious beliefs in this country and these include objections to things like transfusions and vaccines that medical professionals would say are a routine part of comprehensive health care. We don’t know the extent to which this [executive order] can be manipulated.”

Polling conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research on behalf of the NWLC the last week of March found that 64 percent of Americans believe that health insurance plans should cover all basic health care services, including birth control, abortion, prenatal care, childbirth, and postpartum care.

Additionally, 73 percent of Americans were found to oppose insurance companies refusing to cover a woman’s abortion, birth control, or medical care for a miscarriage because of religious or moral beliefs, and 71 percent of Americans oppose hospitals refusing to provide a woman with information or referrals about abortion, birth control, or medical care for a miscarriage because of religious or moral beliefs.

Today’s executive order comes at the same time as the House of Representative’s passage today of a bill to repeal and replace the ACA with the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which would not only eliminate Planned Parenthood as a Medicaid and Title X providerclassify C-sections and sexual assault as preexisting conditions that could allow insurance companies to charge those individuals higher premiums, but also undo the guarantee of coverage for all preventive services as outlined in the ACA.

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