Oct. 6 (UPI) -- The Trump administration formally removed a federal health provision requiring employers to provide coverage for birth control, Health and Human Services announced Friday.
Companies are required under the Affordable Care Act to offer their employees health coverage that covers contraception. Under the new rules, companies and insurers need only cite a moral or religious objection in order to opt out of the Obama-era federal rule requiring birth control be covered for free for all women.
"The president believes that the freedom to practice one's faith is a fundamental right in this country," she said, adding that the Supreme Court "validated this decision many times over."
The ACA mandate raised thorny legal issues when retail chain Hobby Lobby sued in 2013, citing a religious objection to the use of birth control. The Supreme Court sided with the chain's objection, leading former President Barack Obama to draft a compromise rule. That provision said employers aren't required to provide access to birth control, but women who sought contraception couldn't be denied access -- nor would they have to pay for it -- if they dealt directly with their insurance provider, essentially cutting their employer out of the process.
An estimated 55 million women have free access to birth control under the Obama-era rule. Hundreds of thousands could lose that coverage with the change.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Friday said it is filing a lawsuit against the Trump administration. A news release from the organization said the interim rules violate the Establishment Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution by allowing religiously motivated discrimination against women.
"The Trump administration is forcing women to pay for their boss's religious beliefs," said ACLU senior staff attorney Brigitte Amiri. "We're filing this lawsuit because the federal government cannot authorize discrimination against women in the name of religion or otherwise."
The change allows companies and insurers to opt out of the free coverage "based on [their] sincerely held religious beliefs." Another rule permits opting out for "moral convictions."
The change is the Trump administration's latest challenge to the ACA. At the request of the president, Republican lawmakers in Congress have made repeated, but unsuccessful, attempts this year to repeal the landmark healthcare law.