In recent years, HHS has established a “faith-based advisory board” to review laws governing access to birth control and other reproductive health care.
Even without the services of the faith-based advisers, HHS could approve regulations to facilitate access to birth control.
But in the interest of promoting birth control access for all women, HHS issued three new guidance documents late Friday that rescind exemptions that allowed for religious groups and other organizations to impose their beliefs on their employees and their decision to obtain or pay for birth control.
The actions came on the heels of Trump’s signing of sweeping legislation that limits abortion funding in federal programs by the end of the year.
The three guidance documents, titled “Holistic Health Care Providers,” “Workplace Non-discrimination Framework” and “Dedicated Health Care Provider,” will serve as the templates for rules that will apply to future regulations to increase access to contraception.
What are they?
In terms of the guidelines issued Friday, HHS revised the Affordable Care Act’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as the federal law enacted in 1990 known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and states that “prescribing, dispensing, and delivering drugs, devices, or procedures that are integral to or assist in a course of pregnancy control or abortion (as defined by Title X of the Public Health Service Act) are not covered by these exemptions.”
Based on the HHS guidance, a violation of the rules outlined can include prohibiting pharmacists or medical staff from discussing birth control methods with patients or providing sex education or counseling regarding sexual abstinence or contraception.
Employers may also be barred from providing coverage under the Affordable Care Act for prescriptions from only six generic drugs, as well as pharmaceuticals that contain contraceptives — e.g., the birth control pills and the IUD.
HHS officials argue that the changes provide clarity and ensure legal protections for people of faith while at the same time ensuring that family planning care is covered in the same manner as preventive care.
The agency also rescinded an HHS regulation issued in 2017 that allowed religious employers an exemption from contraceptive coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act. That regulation, as well as the agency’s legal analysis of the same issue, may still be challenged in the courts.
In addition, HHS also withdrew an effort to “ensure that no-cost contraception for women takes effect in all 50 states and the District of Columbia,” and rescinded a health advisory group which was established to help providers provide services on faith-based terms.