In this Aug. 26, 2016, file photo, a one-month dosage of hormonal birth control pills is displayed in Sacramento, Calif.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo, File

Trump birth control coverage rules blocked nationwide

January 15, 2019 - 6:48 am

By Marc Levy, Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A federal judge on Monday put a nationwide hold on Trump administration rules that allow more employers to opt out of providing women with no-cost birth control.

U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone in Philadelphia agreed with a lawsuit originally filed by Pennsylvania, citing the potential harm to states should the rules be enforced.

Numerous citizens could lose contraceptive coverage, Beetlestone wrote, resulting in the increased use of state-funded contraceptive services, as well as increased costs to state services from unintended pregnancies.

The rules, scheduled to take effect Monday, would change a mandate under 2010's Affordable Care Act by allowing more employers, including publicly traded companies, to opt out of providing no-cost contraceptive coverage to women by claiming religious objections. Some private employers could also now object on moral grounds.

"The coverage for birth control would have become entirely voluntary," said Drexel law and public health professor Dr. Robert Field. "It would have been something that you could opt out of for any reason, whether it was religious or simply conscience."

The birth control mandate is still on the books for now, and exemptions can only be granted to churches and religiously affilliated organizations, like some hospitals or universities. 

Field says Beetlestone's decision was partly based on the idea that there would be "irreparable harm" if the new rules went into effect.

"There could be women who would not use birth control and therefore would have unplanned pregnancies," he said. "And that would be something that would effect them for the rest of their lives."

Pennsylvania's attorney general, Josh Shapiro, called the court ruling a "victory for the health and economic independence of women" and the rejection of a Trump administration move to violate a federal law that requires insurers to cover the services.

"Congress hasn't changed that law, and the president can't simply ignore it with an illegal rule," Shapiro said.

Shapiro's New Jersey counterpart, AG Gurbir Grewal, also praised the decision and joined Pennsylvania in suing.

In issuing the injunction, Beetlestone wrote in her opinion that the states were likely to win their lawsuit's claims that Trump's administration violated procedural requirements for how regulations must be created and that the rules exceed the scope of authority under the Affordable Care Act.

The Department of Justice did not say whether it would appeal, saying only that it will "continue to vigorously defend religious liberty." The Department of Health and Human Services said the rules affirm the administration's commitment to upholding constitutional freedoms.

"No American should be forced to violate his or her own conscience in order to abide by the laws and regulations governing our health care system," Health and Human Services Department spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said in a statement.

On Sunday, a federal judge in California blocked the rules from taking effect in the jurisdictions in the lawsuit before him. Those included California, New York and 11 other states along with Washington, D.C.

At issue is a requirement under former Democratic President Barack Obama's health care law that birth control services be covered at no additional cost.

Obama officials included exemptions for religious organizations. But the administration of President Donald Trump, a Republican, sought to expand those exemptions and added "moral convictions" as a basis to opt out of providing birth control services.

The Justice Department has argued that the new rules "protect a narrow class of sincere religious and moral objectors from being forced to facilitate practices that conflict with their beliefs."

Beetlestone had previously blocked an interim version of the rules in a December 2017 ruling. In November, the Trump administration rolled out a final version of the rule, prompting another challenge by states.


Associated Press writer Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco and KYW Newsradio's Tim Jimenez contributed to this report.

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