The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) finalized a rule on June 12 clarifying that abortion is not a civil right, rolling back language adopted during the Obama administration.
The new rule revises Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act which, in 2016, redefined “sex” to include “termination of pregnancy.” Because legislation in the Affordable Care Act forbids sex discrimination, insurance companies, hospitals, and medical providers who received federal funding were mandated to offer abortion services under the language of the 2016 provision. This language, however, was quickly tied up in litigation that rendered it unenforceable. A court ruling in December 2016 preliminarily enjoined the provisions, prohibiting HHS from enforcing them. A federal court ruling in October 2019 then vacated and remanded those provisions as unlawful.
This new ACA revision now brings Section 1557 into conformity with the law. The new language also brings the ACA into compliance with conscience protection laws.
In its ruling, HHS said, “Under the final rule, HHS eliminates certain provisions of the 2016 Rule that exceeded the scope of the authority delegated by Congress in Section 1557. HHS will enforce Section 1557 by returning to the government’s interpretation of sex discrimination according to the plain meaning of the word “sex” as male or female and as determined by biology.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, hailed the ruling:
Abortion is not health care and should never be mandated by the government. The Obama/Biden administration sought to expand abortion at every turn, even trying to reinterpret federal law to define abortion as a civil right. . . We thank President Trump and Secretary Azar for standing firmly on the side of the majority of Americans who reject taxpayer funding of abortion, and for the action taken today to roll back the Obama/Biden-era assault on conscience.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also put out a statement applauding the ruling, saying, “We thank the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for promulgating regulations restoring the long-standing position of the federal government that discrimination on the basis of ‘sex’ means just that and does not refer to ‘termination of pregnancy.'”
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