Oct 31, 2017

Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the National Women’s Law Center today filed a lawsuit against Trump administration rules that allow employers and universities to cite religious or moral objections in order to deny employees and students health insurance coverage of birth control.

The organizations filed the litigation on behalf of five women who are at risk of being denied birth control coverage: three students at the University of Notre Dame, including doctoral student Mary Shiraef; an employee at a university in Illinois; and Alicia Baker, an employee at an Indiana church whose insurance provider objects to some forms of birth control.

“Women deserve better than to have their most intimate and personal medical decisions subjected to a boss’s religious veto,” said Richard B. Katskee, Americans United legal director. “President Trump’s zeal to curtail access to birth control is mean-spirited and shortsighted – and his actions are unconstitutional. That’s why we’re taking him to court.”

“Access to contraception is crucial to me on many levels – intimately, for my career and for my personal health,” said plaintiff Mary Shiraef. “It means I can decide if and when I have children. It also means I can entirely focus on the quality of my relationship, without fear of an unplanned pregnancy. It means I get to focus on my task at hand – working toward a Ph.D. – in equitable measure to my male colleagues. It has also improved my overall health. My IUD has reduced the symptoms of my irritable bowel syndrome, which only doubles the benefits of contraceptives for me.”

“As a graduate of seminary school, member and employee of a church, I believe taking birth control in no way violates my religious beliefs. It’s a personal decision I make to plan my family,” said plaintiff Alicia Baker. “Putting barriers in the way of accessing birth control puts ordinary women’s lives on the line, like mine, and I am challenging these rules on behalf of us all.”

In the lawsuit, AU and NWLC argue that the rules violate the Administrative Procedure Act, the Affordable Care Act, and the First Amendment and the Equal Protection and Due Process guarantees of the Constitution.

“Blocking access to basic health care that 99 percent of women use at some point in their lives is unlawful, discriminatory and harmful,” said NWLC President & CEO Fatima Goss Graves. “Everyone deserves birth control coverage, no matter where they work, how they are insured, or where they go to school. Our lawsuit aims to shut down this latest assault by President Trump on women’s health, equality, and economic security.”

The lawsuit, Shiraef v. Hargan, was filed in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Indiana. It is the latest in a series of lawsuits filed against the rules in courts across the country.

AU and NWLC are joined by co-counsel Dentons, a global law firm.

Experts from AU and NWLC and plaintiffs Mary Shiraef and Alicia Baker are available for interview.