TrumpWatch, Day 260: Trump Administration Limits Birth Control in Healthcare Plans

Donald Trump with the Little Sisters of the Poor, who are pursuing legal action against provision of contraception, May 2017

Trump had promised action in May

Developments on Day 260 of the Trump Administration:

See also Political WorldView Podcast: The UK-US “Who’s In Charge Here?” Edition

Administration Expands Employer Rights to Deny Birth Control

Citing “religious freedom”, the Trump administration expands the ability of employers to deny women insurance coverage for contraception.

The guidances from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Health and Human Services could also erode civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

Sessions quoted Donald Trump’s May declaration that “we will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore”, as he instructed his staff to argue in court that workers, employers, and organizations may claim broad exemptions from non-discrimination laws on the basis of religious position.

The new HHS rules retract the federal requirement that employers must include birth control coverage in health insurance plans, widening exemptions for religious beliefs and/or moral convictions.

More than 55 million women have access to birth control without co-payments because of contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The attorney general of Massachusetts, Maura Healey, and the attorney general of California, Xavier Becerra, immediately filed lawsuits to block the new rules. They said the rules violated the First Amendment and its ban on Government action “respecting an establishment of religion”.

Sessions’s guidance at the Justice Department directs federal agencies to review their regulations with an eye to expanding protections for religious believers. Doing so, he reinterpreted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, adopted by Congress in 1993 with broad support from across the religious spectrum. That said government could limit the free exercise of religion only if there was a “compelling” reason, and must do so in the least restrictive way possible.

Legal directors at advocacy groups say religious charities or schools that receive government funding may now fire an unmarried employee who becomes pregnant, or an employee who marries a same-sex partner. Religious contractors who administer foster care programs could refuse to place foster children with gay couples. Houses of worship damaged in hurricanes may use taxpayer funds to hire only staff members who share their religious beliefs. Clerks with the Social Security Administration or the Department of Veterans Affairs who do not agree with same-sex marriage may refuse to process paperwork to provide benefits to a widow in such a relationship.

Justice Department officials insisted Sessions had only pointed to existing law and was not making a policy change.

On Thursday the Attorney General ordered the Justice Department to argue in court cases that transgender people are not protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against workplace discrimination.

See Sessions to Justice Department: Civil Rights Act Does Not Protect Transgender People

Trump’s Efforts to Sabotage ObamaCare

As part of his effort to undermine ObamaCare, Donald Trump orders his officials to deny requests to fix marketplaces for provision of health care.

Trump told the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, Seema Verma, to deny a request from the state of Iowa for marketplace reform.

The Trump Administration is also trying to cut funding for the ACA and limit enrollment. The Health and Human Services Department has reduced grants to groups that help consumers get insurance coverage, halved the enrollment period in half, reduced the advertising budget by 90%, and limited the availability of the website.

The White House has also driven up premiums by creating uncertainty, for example, refusing to commit to funding the cost-sharing reductions that help about 7 million lower-income Americans. Officials are considering action to end the payments in November.

A source told Filkins, “Tillerson told Trump that America didn’t need to pay bribes—that we could bring the world up to our own standards.”

Trump to Tillerson: Laws Should Not Prevent Bribery by US Companies

Donald Trump complained to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in February that federal laws prevent US companies bribing foreign officials.

In a lengthy pro-Tillerson profile of the fractious relationship between the Secretary of State and Trump, the New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins says Tillerson hit back at Trump’s assertion that US firms were being unfairly penalized. He cited a case where Exxon, which he led as CEO, had refused to pay a $5 million bribe to win a Yemeni contract and still succeeded.

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.

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