Trump's Birth Control Rules Say Public Clinics Can Help Women — But There's A Problem

by Morgan Brinlee
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When the Trump administration finalized rules giving employers greater latitude to refuse insurance coverage for birth control due to religious or moral objections earlier this month, a number of women's health organizations voiced serious concerns. But the Trump administration isn't backing down. In fact, it has recently rolled out a new proposal aimed at justifying its decision to weaken access to no-cost contraception, saying female employees denied coverage for birth control can simply obtain their contraceptive at low-income family-planning clinics. The catch? Those clinics are already seriously underfunded.

While the Affordable Care Act requires employer-provided health care plans include coverage of birth control as a preventative health care service, CNN reported that the Trump administration finalized rules earlier this month giving employers the ability to opt out if they claim to have religious or moral objections to providing contraception to their employees.

In light of the initial protests and concerns the rules sparked, the Trump administration has more recently proposed a separate rule geared at justifying the first. It states that female employees whose employers cite religious or moral objections as a means of excluding some or all forms of contraception from employer-provided insurance plans are eligible to obtain birth control from family-planning clinics funded under Title X, The New York Times has reported.

Traditionally, such clinics are required to prioritize individuals whose annual income is equal to or less than the federal poverty level and are therefore considered to be "low-income." It's worth noting that the federal poverty level is considered to be $12,060 for a household of one, $16,240 for a household of two, and $20,420 for a household of two, according to Investopedia. However, under the new rule, any woman or gender non-conforming person denied birth control coverage from their employer would automatically be considered "from a 'low-income' family" despite what they, or their household's income actually is.

According to The Times, the Trump administration views the proposed rule to be a way to "preserve conscience protections" for employers with religious objections to contraception while still making them accessible to people who need them. But family planning clinics funded under Title X are already strained. What's more, the Trump administration has been chipping away at their funding.

Earlier this year, the administration rolled out what critics have called a "gag rule" aimed at preventing clinics receiving Title X funding from providing patients — even those who specifically ask — with counsel, information, or a referral on abortion services, PBS Newshour reported. Clinics who continue to offer patients information, counseling, or referrals related to abortion don't get the Title X funding they need.

In a statement to The Times, president and chief executive of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, Clare Coleman, expressed concern that Trump's newest proposal would effectively "hijack Title X programs and use their limited federal funds to subsidize employers' refusal to comply with the contraceptive coverage requirement."

But given birth control's popularity among women — according to Planned Parenthood, nine out of 10 sexually active women use birth control — and the already underfunded nature of family planning clinics, Trump's latest move could seriously weaken women's access to no-or-low-cost contraception.