A federal judge in Pennsylvania on Friday blocked rules that the Trump administration issued last October that would allow any employer or university to use religion as an excuse to deny their employees and students health insurance coverage for birth control.
Pennsylvania officials challenged the rules and in the case, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Trump, asked that the court prohibit them from taking effect. U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone did just that, holding that the rules violate multiple laws.
For one, they violate the Affordable Care Act, which requires that most health insurance plans cover contraception at no cost sharing to women. Because the rules are so sweeping in nature and would allow virtually anyone to refuse to cover contraception, they are, in Judge Beetlestone’s words, “the proverbial exception that swallows the rule.” She noted that the rules would allow an employer who believes that women do not have a place in the workplace to simply stop providing contraception coverage. And “[i]t is difficult to comprehend a rule that does more to undermine the Contraceptive Mandate or that intrudes more into the lives of women.”
The Trump administration should keep their hands off birth control access.
Moreover, Judge Beetlestone rejected the government’s argument that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 requires it to allow anyone who objects to covering contraception to deny coverage. That’s because current regulations already allow an objecting entity to notify the government of its objection by filling out a one-page form, in which case the government steps in to make sure the required contraception is provided. This accommodation process essentially removes an objecting entity from the process of covering contraception while ensuring that women still have access to basic healthcare.
Judge Beetlestone further found that the government also violated federal law because it did not follow mandatory procedures for issuing regulations, including providing the public an opportunity to comment on proposed rules. And that’s unacceptable when the rules will result in harm to women “across the nation” that “is enormous and irreversible.”
Americans United was pleased to see this ruling. AU and its allies are also fighting the Trump regulations in a federal court in Indiana. We represent students at the University of Notre Dame and employees at religiously affiliated institutions because we believe that religion is no excuse to harm women.
You can learn more about our work to fight President Trump's birth control rules through our Protect Thy Neighbor project.