Jan 17, 2020

Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, issued the following statement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s agreeing to hear Trump v. Pennsylvania, a case challenging the Trump administration’s unconstitutional rules allowing employers and universities to cite religious beliefs to deny birth control coverage to workers and students:

“The Supreme Court should affirm that it is unconstitutional for the Trump administration to misuse religious freedom to block employees’ and students’ access to birth control. Federal courts in Pennsylvania, California and just yesterday in our case in Indiana have ruled against this discriminatory policy. As a reminder, the Affordable Care Act guarantees employees and students the right to contraceptive coverage. The religious beliefs of their bosses and university officials cannot deny them this right. That’s what church-state separation guarantees, and that’s what we’ll continue to fight for in court.”

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Philip P. Simon in Indiana ruled against the Trump administration and the University of Notre Dame in a case filed on behalf of Notre Dame students by Americans United, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the National Women’s Law Center and the law firms Fried Frank and Macey Swanson.

The lawsuit, Irish 4 Reproductive Health v. HSS, challenges both the administration’s birth control rules and the government’s illegal backdoor agreement with Notre Dame and more than 70 other religiously affiliated organizations to settle previous lawsuits over birth control insurance coverage benefits. It is the only litigation challenging the collusive settlement agreement.

“[I]t seems plain that the Rules and Settlement Agreement are directly contrary to the obvious intent of the Women’s Health Amendment: to ensure access to contraceptive care,” wrote Simon in his opinion.

Simon wrote that the Trump administration’s argument that the settlement agreement could not be challenged in court is “a little hard to swallow,” adding: “It is especially disturbing to me that the Federal Defendants have purported to bind future administrations, as well as future faculty, staff, and students at Notre Dame, by entering into such a broad Settlement Agreement that exempts Notre Dame from ‘the Regulations or any materially similar regulation or agency policy,’ and provides that no penalties will be assessed for noncompliance with ‘any law or regulation’ requiring contraceptive coverage.”

The lawsuit Irish 4 Reproductive Health v. HSS is available here.

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Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.