Liberal Jewish groups oppose, Orthodox support rollback of contraception coverage


(JTA) — Liberal Jewish groups have opposed a Trump administration ruling that says employers who claim providing contraception in their health care coverage violates their religious or moral beliefs do not have to do so. An Orthodox group said the rules were in line with accepted practice.

The exceptions to the Affordable Care Act’s promise of no-cost contraceptive coverage were announced Friday by the Health and Human Services Department.

The new rules broaden the entities that may claim religious objections to providing contraceptive coverage to include both nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies.

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, in a statement called the rollback of the contraception mandate “an egregious assault on women’s rights.”

“This decision has been falsely characterized as a win for religious liberty. It is not,” he said in a statement. “In fact, it undoes a rule that delicately balanced religious liberty and conscience claims with the compelling interest of ensuring all women have access to reproductive health care. A woman’s right to control her own body should not depend on her employer. We staunchly oppose this decision.”

The National Council of Jewish Women also came out against the ruling in a statement by CEO Nancy Kaufman.

“The Trump Administration has once again chosen religious interests over women’s health,” she said.

“There are differing religious views on the use of contraception, and it should be up to women to decide on whether and when to use contraception based on their own beliefs and needs. By allowing employers with religious or moral objections to deny coverage of birth control to its employees, the beliefs of an employer are once again being held in higher regard than the religious and moral beliefs of the employee. On this most-personal decision, no woman should be forced to abide by the religious views of her or her insured spouse’s employer.”

In a series of tweets, the Orthodox Union’s Washington director, Nathan Diament, said the rules comported with practices under both Republican and Democratic presidents, implying that the deviation was under President Barack Obama, who restricted religious exemptions.

The Trump Justice Department, in its guidance, Diament noted, “cites workplace religious freedom guidance from Bill Clinton. So much of what’s in the guidance memo is straightforward interpretation of existing statutes and [Supreme Court] decisions.”

Stosh Cotler, CEO of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, in a statement called the rollback of the birth control coverage provision of the Affordable Care Act by the Trump Administration “pandering to the religious right.”

Cotler also called it “an attack on women across the country and a distortion of the concept of religious freedom.”

“By placing the religious beliefs of business owners and corporate executives above those of their individual employees,” she said, “the administration is undermining the very First Amendment freedoms they claim to be safeguarding.”

“Jewish Americans believe in a society where all people have their health care needs met, and that includes reproductive health care. We will continue to work with our allies in faith communities nationwide to advocate for affordable, comprehensive birth control for all Americans.”

The Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that it was illegal to require the providing of contraception for employees on “closely held corporations” such as Hobby Lobby, the craft store chain. Its Christian owners had objected to paying to provide several kinds of the birth control that must be covered under the Affordable Care Act.

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