Federal officials, following through on a pledge by President Trump, have drafted a rule to roll back a federal requirement that many religious employers provide birth control coverage in health insurance plans.
The mandate for free contraceptive coverage was one of the most hotly contested Obama administration policies adopted under the Affordable Care Act, and it generated scores of lawsuits by employers that had religious objections to it.
On its website, the White House Office of Management and Budget said it is reviewing an “interim final rule” to relax the requirement, a step that would all but ensure a court challenge by women’s rights groups.
Mr. Trump signaled a change in direction on May 4, when he issued an executive order instructing three cabinet departments to consider amended regulations to “address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate.” The order cites a section of the Affordable Care Act that refers specifically to preventive services for women.
Mr. Trump removed any doubt about his intentions when he signed the executive order that day. At a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House, he celebrated the faith of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a 178-year-old religious order that refused to comply with the contraceptive coverage mandate and fought it all the way to the Supreme Court.
The president invited the Little Sisters to join him on the dais, announced that they “sort of just won a lawsuit” and told them that their “long ordeal will soon be over.”
“With this executive order,” Mr. Trump said, “we are ending the attacks on your religious liberty.”
The new rule will fulfill a campaign pledge by Mr. Trump. “I will make absolutely certain religious orders like the Little Sisters of Poor are not bullied by the federal government because of their religious beliefs,” he said in October in a letter to leaders of Roman Catholic organizations.
Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, welcomed the opportunity to re-examine the preventive-services mandate. “We will be taking action in short order to follow the president’s instruction to safeguard the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans who provide health insurance to their employees,” he said this month.
Democrats in Congress have vowed to fight just as hard to preserve the mandate, saying it has benefited over 50 million women.
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