Judge blocks Trump birth control coverage rules in 13 states

Published 2:02 pm Monday, January 14, 2019

OAKLAND, Calif. — Trump administration rules that allow more employers to opt out of providing women with no-cost birth control pose “potentially dire” financial and public health consequences for 13 states and Washington, D.C., a U.S. judge said in a decision blocking the rules from taking effect in those jurisdictions.

Judge Haywood Gilliam on Sunday granted a request for a preliminary injunction, but limited his order to California, New York and the other plaintiffs before him. They sought to prevent the rules from taking effect Monday while a lawsuit against them moved forward.

The states had shown that the rules would result in the loss of employer-covered birth control coverage, forcing thousands of women to turn for contraceptives to programs paid for by the state, Gilliam said.

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The rules were also likely to increase the rate of unintended pregnancies, creating additional costs for the states, the judge said.

The changes would allow 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 object on moral grounds.

An email to the Justice Department on Monday was not immediately returned. The department said the government shutdown may affect its response.

“The law couldn’t be more clear — employers have no business interfering in women’s healthcare decisions,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement Sunday. “Today’s court ruling stops another attempt by the Trump Administration to trample on women’s access to basic reproductive care.”

The DOJ said in court documents the rules “protect a narrow class of sincere religious and moral objectors from being forced to facilitate practices that conflict with their beliefs.”

At issue is a requirement under President Barack Obama’s health care law that birth control services be covered at no additional cost. Obama officials included exemptions for religious organizations. The Trump administration expanded those exemptions and added “moral convictions” as a basis to opt out of providing birth control services.

At a hearing on Friday, Gilliam said the changes would result in a “substantial number” of women losing birth control coverage, which would be a “massive policy shift.”

The judge previously blocked an interim version of the rules — a decision that was upheld in December by an appeals court.

In his ruling, Gilliam rejected the states’ request for a nationwide injunction, though he noted that his decision meant women in other states were at risk of losing access to free contraceptives. The states had not met the “high threshold” for a nationwide order required by a U.S. appeals court, Gilliam said.

The ruling also affects Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington state.