President Trump’s administration has not totally reversed or repealed any of former President Obama’s really big accomplishments. But the new administration is getting rid of many Obama policies, ones that are not quite as far-reaching as, say, the Affordable Care Act but still could impact millions of people.
The latest example came Friday, when Trump’s team announced broader exemptions for an ACA mandate requiring employers to offer birth control free of deductibles or co-pays to their employees.1 Health care experts say the new regulation will essentially allow any organization to argue that offering contraceptives to its employees violates its religious or moral views (even if it is not a church, religious school or another clearly religious entity), and thus be freed from the mandate.
The Obama administration had originally decided that almost all employers had to cover birth control. But after a political fight that included even some liberal faith leaders opposing the initial policy, the administration carved out a narrow exemption from the contraception mandate for some religious organizations.
It’s hard to know exactly how many employees Trump’s new provision will affect, because we don’t know how many employers will seek this exemption. But the policy direction is clear: The Trump administration will be requiring fewer employers to offer contraception.
A day earlier, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent out a formal memo to Department of Justice employees announcing that the department would no longer interpret the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as applying to discrimination against people who are transgender. (The memo essentially says that discrimination based on “sex,” which the law bans, is about men and women and not sexual identity.) The practical effect of the memo, reversing a policy enacted by Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, is that the Justice Department will not support court cases in which transgender people seek to file suit for discrimination based on their identity under that civil rights law.
Again, it is hard to quantify the exact impact of this new policy, but we know that Trump’s Justice Department will be less eager to defend transgender Americans from workplace discrimination than Obama’s.
These reversals are important to understand not only for their Obama-Trump context and for their impact on people, but also for their role in the politics of identity. Democratic voters are much more likely than Republican voters to believe that women and people who are transgender face high levels of discrimination. So a Democratic-led presidential administration pushed for policies that reflected those views: free contraception was meant to reverse what it saw as a gender-based bias in which health care services are covered, and interpreting the Civil Rights Act to include transgender people would potentially protect them from discrimination.
Republicans, meanwhile, are much more likely than Democrats to believe that Christians face discrimination. Christian conservative activists, in particular, argue that mandating they offer contraceptives to employees violates their religious rights and that the Obama administration went too far in extending transgender rights, like allowing people who are openly transgender to serve in the armed forces. Trump was elected with strong support from white conservative Christians, and he appears to be tiling policy in their direction.