Washington: US president Donald Trump's administration annulled on Friday an Obamacare provision that obliged employer health plans to pay for contraception, potentially stripping free birth control from millions of women.
The move extends to all commercial enterprises an exemption already given to religious institutions.
Rights groups, physicians, Democrats and ordinary citizens were outraged, and #HandsOffMyBC was a top trending hashtag on Twitter while the American Civil Liberties Union threatened a lawsuit.
But the White House insisted it was a matter of religious freedom.
The ruling expands "exemptions to protect moral convictions for certain entities and individuals whose health plans are subject to a mandate of contraceptive coverage" under Obamacare, a note published by the US Department of Health and Human Services said.
Millions of American women who had the cost of contraception reimbursed could be affected by the decision, which conservative groups had been seeking since Obamacare began.
Challenges to Obamacare had reached the US Supreme Court, which in 2014 ruled that family-owned private companies could choose not to provide contraceptive coverage to female employees on religious grounds.
In May, Trump signed a decree on religious liberty ordering his administration to take into account objections of conscience on matters of contraception.
Obamacare is the common name for the Affordable Care Act, health reforms that took effect under former president Barack Obama in 2010. It allowed millions of people to get health insurance.
It was not immediately clear how many women would be affected by the new ruling. The Trump administration, basing estimates off the number of employers who had previously filed lawsuits over the Obamacare requirement to fully cover the costs of birth control, said it would only be about 120,000 women.
A 2016 government study said Obamacare had guaranteed that 55.6 million women with private insurance had access to free birth control.
The American Civil Liberties Union said it was "suing the Trump administration to block new rules allowing employers to deny insurance coverage for birth control."
Planned Parenthood said the new rule "puts our birth control coverage at risk."
Updated Date: Oct 07, 2017 15:20 PM