President Donald Trump recently announced his intention to expand the ability of employers to claim moral or religious objections to providing birth control coverage to employees. There are currently around 55 million women being covered for free contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act mandate. It is unclear how many women would lose this coverage because the number of companies which would claim a moral objection to the mandate is unknown. Some estimate hundreds of thousands of women losing benefits while others estimate that a small number of people would be affected and 99.9 percent of coverage would remain.
Justifications for this understandably controversial policy have been contradictory, highlighting the underlying motives of the administration. Trump announced this as a part of his mission to increase religious protections in the United States. Yet in the actual report much of the argument made is against the actual effectiveness of birth control. Though it is clear that creating more religious exemptions is the main objective of the administration there is still unnecessary discussion about the alleged ineffectiveness of birth control. Trump claims that the effect of birth control on unintended pregnancies is unmeasurable. However there are academic studies showing that due to an increase in use of contraceptives over the past ten years, teen births declined around 51 percent. This decline can be attributed to free and more ubiquitous birth control thanks to the Obama administration's mandate.
There is an argument being made that it is unjust to force nuns to provide contraceptives because this makes them "morally complicit in grave sin". However this rule extends way beyond exemption for just churches to any non governmental organization that is not publicly traded. Furthermore, the requirements for religious organizations under the Obama administration did not order religious organizations to hand out birth control. They simply required these organizations to have a clear alternate path for women to get free contraceptives but were still noncompliant. It is clear from the actions of the Trump administration that this is not simply about religious protections —if it was, there would be Supreme Court action instead of the administration's incredibly vague call to allow companies to "object on moral or religious grounds".
These complications and confusions point towards the real political motivations behind this policy announcement: this new rule is rather about undermining the progressive action that has been made on easier and cheaper access to women's health care. This is made clear by the Trump administrations worries about contraceptive effectiveness and use of contested studies showing its ineffectiveness. In the report, the Trump administration argues that the mandate may not be in the government's best interest because free contraception could encourage risky sexual behavior. A study by the Washington University School of Medicine gave around 10,000 women free contraceptives and monitored whether their sexual behavior got riskier over the next year. This study concluded that "increasing access to no-cost contraceptives doesn't translate into riskier sexual behavior". This argument seems counterintuitive because even if sexual behavior was riskier such as having more sexual partners, the accessibility of contraception ensures that this sex is still safe.
It is estimated that taxpayers spend around $12 billion per year on medical expenses for unintended pregnancies. Given it is also estimated that half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, there is a lot of room for fiscal savings if we were able to avoid these expenditures. This rate of unplanned pregnancies is much higher among women who live below the federal poverty level and subsequently uneducated women. Therefore the more free and accessible contraception that is out there, the better.
The issue is not with the religious exemptions, because although this is still contentious, it was dealt with by the Obama administration and in numerous Supreme Court decisions. The issue instead is with the fact that almost any company or organization who does not want to provide contraceptives to their employees for whatever reason, can claim a moral objection and opt out of coverage. And since the Obama administration's progress has not continued, this may leave many women uncovered. The report provides an attempt at comforting these newly unprotected women with a section stating that there are some states that have programs similar to that of the employer mandate. It also reminds women that there are some forms of birth control available for the low price of $50 a month or "higher one-time cost, but when calculated over the duration of use, cost a similar amount". This demonstrates a blatant misunderstanding of the fact that many people don't have an extra $50 to spend each month and even if they do it will likely go towards food or rent. Providing birth control services to employees did not seem to be an issue before this new action, but now that there is an option to opt out and potentially save money, it is becoming yet another unnecessary challenge women have to face in access to affordable health care.