The Iowa family clinic Chelsea Vargas went to recently closed, forcing her to reconsider her current form of birth control. The clinic provided her a free birth control ring. Without the clinic’s financial assistance, she won’t be able to afford her preferred contraception. (Although most plans cover the ring, she hasn’t been able to pay off her deductible to use her insurance.)
Before the clinic closed, she switched from the ring to an implant, a tiny rod inserted under the skin of the arm that lasts for four years. She doesn’t like that she no longer gets her period because of the implant; she’s noticed she gets more pimples too. The implant is not her preferred option but it’s long-acting unlike the ring, so she won’t have to worry about costs.
“So I know what it’s like to have your birth control taken away — all the anxiety.” Vargas said. “And I came to support everyone else because I’ve been there.”
Vargas went to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tuesday to support Planned Parenthood as a patient advocate, and a dozen other reproductive and civil rights organizations. Advocacy groups crowded outside HHS to deliver tens of thousands of written testimonies, describing the impact contraceptive coverage has on millions of women and gender minorities.
The Trump administration rolled back the Affordable Care Act (ACA) protection that guarantees no out-of-pocket costs for 18 different methods of contraception. The Trump administration issued two regulations that hobbled the contraceptive mandate: The rules permit some employers — including universities and colleges — to object to providing free birth control, citing religious and moral convictions. Although the rules went into effect immediately, people can formally submit a comment to the federal government.
On Tuesday, various health organizations submitted 512,811.
“They still have to respond to every comment they actually get,” said Maya Rupert, senior director for policy at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “This rule does not have support.”
The objective for organizers Tuesday was to flood the comment section and communicate to HHS that this is an incredibly important issue; it’s about health care; it’s about economics. And they’ll have to answer to constituents online and in court. (The Center is among several national organizations that filed a lawsuit against the administration’s rules.)
“When they finalize the rule, they are actually going to have to come back through and explain why they have decided to ignore this overwhelming number of people who do not only disagree with the rule but question the legality of it.”
The effect of the regulations is not yet known, as employers are not obligated to report whether they’re seeking religious or moral exceptions. HHS officials have said they anticipate few employers will seek exemption and if some do, employees can turn to existing programs like family planning clinics. (The Trump administration has already taken steps to strip federal money from some family planning clinics.)
“We don’t know the impact but the agency has sent a clear message that essentially employers and universities can do whatever they want,” said Susan Inman, Senior Federal Policy Counsel at the Center. The Center hasn’t been able to catalog the net effect — at least not yet.
Yulis Vega flew in from Miami, Florida Monday evening to support the cause. She started taking birth control since she was 16 years old. She took the pill to regulate her period. Now, she takes birth control not just for pregnancy prevention, but for a medical condition: Twenty-year-old Vega recently learned she has ovarian cysts, and now takes oral contraceptives to treat the cysts. Her ability to get free birth control is not at risk under the interim final rule; she’s on Medicaid. But that’s not the point, she says. It’s larger than her. “Your choice to take birth control shouldn’t be in the hands of your employer, it should be in your hands.” Vega said. “It’s a taboo subject that shouldn’t be taboo. It’s like taking Vitamin C. It’s just something you do for your health!”
So far 37,631 people commented on the moral exemptions rule and 38,613 commented on the religious exemption rule. People have until the end of day to post a comment on regulations.gov.