The Trump administration has relaxed a key mandate of the Affordable Care Act, allowing a wide range of employers to refuse no-cost birth control coverage to employees if the employer has a religious or moral objection to contraceptives.
On Oct. 6, the Department of Health and Human Services announced new rules for the ACA provision that requires employers to cover birth control without co-pay in their employee health plans, CNN reports.
The two new rules will expand the religious exemption for religious institutions and some privately held companies to include nonprofits, private firms and publicly traded companies. These entities can now withhold birth control coverage on the grounds of religious belief or a moral objection.
Currently, more than 55 million women in the U.S. have birth control coverage without any out-of-pocket costs. The National Women's Law Center estimated that the ACA mandate saved American women a cumulative $1.4 billion in birth control payments in 2013.
HHS disclosed in its announcement that it expected roughly 120,000 women to be impacted by the new rule, although critics have asserted that the revisions could result in millions losing coverage for birth control.
"There is no way to know how many women will be affected," said Alina Salganicoff, director of women's health policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation.
"It is a huge loophole for any employer that does not want to provide birth control coverage to their employees," professor Dania Palanker of Georgetown University told NPR.
HHS Office of Civil Rights Director Roger Severino asserted that the new rules would provide "space for organizations to live out their religious identity and not face discrimination."
Several anti-abortion groups praised the Trump administration's new rules, asserting that the ACA mandate placed employers in a position of betraying their religious convictions, USA Today reports.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, said her organization would "no longer have to pay for life-ending drugs that are antithetical to their mission and for which we have argued there is certainly no 'compelling state interest.'"
Meanwhile, several health care and civil rights groups blasted the decision. The American Civil Liberties Union swiftly filed a lawsuit against the new rules.
"The Trump administration is forcing women to pay for their boss's religious beliefs," the ACLU said in a statement, according to ABC News.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists condemned the new rules, stating that Trump administration was exhibiting a "deep disregard for women's health."