The Biden Administration announced it proposes removing an exemption provision from the Affordable Care Act which stipulates that employers must provide all forms of birth control to their employees free of charge: contraception, sterilization, or abortion pills. The exemption covers employers who oppose contraception for religious or moral reasons.
The modification in the regulations proposed by the President is subtle. In order to circumvent the First Amendment of the Constitution which protects freedom in matters of religion, it is a question of removing not the objection of conscience based on religious reasons, but one based solely on moral grounds.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates that the bill would impact more than 100 employers and 125,000 employees, CNN reported. The first affected will be pharmacists – but not the only ones – who will no longer be able to hide behind religious objection, now reserved for confessional institutions, such as clinics or Catholic schools.
Under the Trump administration, the health policy – commonly known as Obamacare – was modified by introducing the double objection of conscience, religious and moral. Joe Biden is therefore unraveling what his predecessor had done in favor of conscientious objection motivated either by religion or by an ethical evaluation of birth control, including contraception, sterilization, and the abortion pill.
In addition, for employees of Catholic institutions, – or even students of Catholic universities – a system will be put in place to ensure that all elements of birth control are free, through a third-party company.
Kristi Hamrick, chief media and policy strategist for the pro-life group Students for Life of America, told the Catholic News Agency that the executive's proposal is part of “ ‘a vicious cycle with life-and-death implications’ and that the Biden administration ‘is ignoring Constitutional rights of conscience that should be protected.’”
The move comes as ruling Democrats have vowed to do everything to expand access to abortion and birth control to thwart the Supreme Court's landmark Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022.
Timothy M. Dolan, Cardinal Archbishop of New York and chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, reacted saying that the Trump-era rule issued in 2018 “provided appropriately clear and robust protections for the exercise of religious beliefs and moral convictions, free from government punishment,” and was upheld by the Supreme Court. HHS proposes to modify them once again.
“While we are pleased that the proposed regulations appear, at this early stage of review, to retain the bulk of the existing religious exemption, their elimination of protections for moral convictions is disheartening…. The proper reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs is not, as the proposed regulations claim, to make it free for women to sterilize themselves, but rather to relieve the burdens that our laws and culture place both on mothers and those who may become mothers.”