Scores of religious conservatives have had high hopes that the Trump administration would simply throw out the ever-contentious contraceptive mandate, an Obama-era health requirement that U.S. employers cover birth control for women without cost.
But reports indicate that federal officials could be preparing to potentially defend the controversial measure.
Hopes that the birth-control mandate could be a staple of the past weren’t simply based on mere speculation, either, as President Donald Trump had pledged on the 2016 campaign trail to protect people of faith from the contentious regulation and to repeal it.
After all, the employer requirement under the Affordable Care Act has led to numerous lawsuits on behalf of religious groups and Christian-owned companies that have claimed the required coverage of certain forms of birth control violates their religious liberty.
The most high-profile case was Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., which made its way to the Supreme Court, with the justices finding in a 5-4 opinion that it is a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to mandate that contraception be provided by closely-held corporations such as craft store chain Hobby Lobby.
Hobby Lobby had argued that the required coverage of certain forms of birth control violated the owners’ religious conscience.
But a move on Monday by the Justice Department has led to speculation that the Trump administration might not have plans to scrap the mandate, with some wondering whether officials will actually defend it, as the Obama administration had previously done.
The Justice Department asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit for another 60 days to negotiate with religious groups, including East Texas Baptist University, who are opposed to the mandate on moral grounds, the Washington Post reported.
Despite fears that this indicates plans to defend the regulation, the Post notes that the administration could simply be trying to buy more time while it assesses its options on the matter moving forward.
Mark Rienzi, an attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty who represent clients in the current case against the mandate, told Fox News that he doesn’t believe the Trump administration is in a position to continue defending the mandate.
“Trump and (Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom) Price have a public position,” Rienzi told the outlet. “My point is this: There’s no plausible way they can continue this appeal.”
Reports indicated that the Trump administration was already considering its steps just weeks after the president’s inauguration. Considering that Price had opposed the mandate in Congress during the Obama era, many speculated it would be axed immediately.
Price had, in fact, already filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court stating that the birth-control mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, according to Fox News.
And as the Hill noted, the birth control mandate could simply be rescinded with a regulation through the House and Human Services Department by simply not listing birth control as a service that must be covered for women without cost-sharing.
Considering that the contraceptive mandate has been viewed by many as an infringement on religious liberty — and Trump has positioned himself as someone who pledges to defend that constitutional right — it will be interesting to see his administration’s next steps on the matter.
(H/T: Washington Post)
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