February 2018 Church & State - February 2018

Two Federal Courts Block Trump Administration’s Birth Control Rules

  Liz Hayes

Two federal judges have blocked the rules the Trump administration issued last October that would allow employers and universities to use religion as an excuse to deny their employees and students health insurance coverage for birth control.

In addition to the lawsuit filed by Americans United, the National Wo­men’s Law Center and the law firm Dentons that challenges the Trump administration’s discriminatory birth control rules, similar lawsuits were filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and several states, including California and Pennsylvania.

On Dec. 15, U.S. District Judge Wen­dy Beetlestone in Pennsylvania blocked the rules from going into effect, ruling in Pennsylvania v. Trump. Six days later, U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr. in California followed her lead and, in the case California v. Hargan, also issued an injunction blocking the rules. Gilliam noted the “the potentially dire public health and fiscal consequences” of the Trump administration’s rules in his order.

Beetlestone wrote, “It is difficult to comprehend a rule that does more to undermine the Contraceptive Mandate or that intrudes more into the lives of women.” She was referring to the benefit in the Affordable Care Act that ensures most health insurance plans provided by employers and uni­versities cover FDA-approved birth control at no cost to workers and students.

Beetlestone also 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.

AU’s lawsuit, Shiraef v. Hargan, is ongoing. The plaintiffs include five women at risk of losing birth control access due to the Trump rules: Mary Shiraef and two other University of Notre Dame students; Alicia Baker, an Indiana woman whose employer’s health insurance provider objects to some forms of birth control; and a woman employed by an Illinois university.

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