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Analysis

Judge Blocks Final Rule On Birth Control Coverage

By John Commins  
   January 14, 2019

The injunction applies only in the 13 plaintiff states that filed suit against a Trump administration final rule allowing employers to deny birth control coverage based on religious grounds, and comes just hours before the final rule was set to take effect Monday.

Update (January 14): A federal judge in Pennsylvania issued a nationwide injunction Monday blocking these two new rules.

A federal judge in California has blocked a Trump administration final rule that would have allowed employers to deny birth control coverage for employees based on religious objections.

The ruling, which applies only to the 13 plaintiff states and the District of Columbia, was handed down Sunday afternoon, just hours before the final rule was set to take effect on Monday.

In his 45-page preliminary injunction, U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr. in Oakland said California and the other plaintiff states in the suit had compelling claims that the final rule violates the Affordable Care Act, and that the plaintiff states would be harmed economically because women will have to use state programs to access affordable contraception and healthcare services.

However, Gilliam said his injunction would apply only to the plaintiff states, and not the rest of the country, owing to an earlier ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, 

"The Court fully recognizes that limiting the scope of this injunction to the Plaintiff States means that women in other states are at risk of losing access to cost-free contraceptives when the Final Rules take effect," Gilliam wrote. "On the present record, the Court cannot conclude that the high threshold set by the Ninth Circuit for a nationwide injunction, in light of the concerns articulated in the California opinion, has been met."

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the lead plaintiff in the suit, cheered the ruling.

"The law couldn't be clearer – employers have no business interfering in women's healthcare decisions," Becerra said.

"Today's court ruling stops another attempt by the Trump Administration to trample on women's access to basic reproductive care," Becerra said.

"It's 2019, yet the Trump Administration is still trying to roll back women’s rights. Our coalition will continue to fight to ensure women have access to the reproductive healthcare they are guaranteed under the law." 

The Department of Health and Human Services, the lead defendant, did not issue a statement on the ruling. However, The New York Times cited Justice Department lawyers in the case arguing that HHS policymakers "reasonably exercised their rule-making authority to protect a narrow class of sincere religious and moral objectors from being forced to facilitate practices that conflict with their beliefs."

The Little Sisters of the Poor, interveners in the case, filed an appeal late Sunday.

Their attorney, Mark Rienzi with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said Gilliam's ruling "will allow politicians to threaten the rights of religious women like the Little Sisters of the Poor."

"Now the Little Sisters have no choice but to keep fighting this unnecessary fight so they can protect their right to focus on caring for the poor. We are confident this decision will be overturned," Rienzi said.

The ruling applies to the plaintiff states of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington State and the District of Columbia. Oregon this month petitioned the court to join the suit. 

“The law couldn't be clearer – employers have no business interfering in women's healthcare decisions.”

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Federal judge says 13 plaintiff states and the District of Columbia have a strong claim that the final rule violates protections made clear in the Affordable Care Act.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra blasts 'another attempt by the Trump Administration to trample on women's access to basic reproductive care.'

DOJ had defended the final rule as "reasonably exercised .... to protect a narrow class of sincere religious and moral objectors from being forced to facilitate practices that conflict with their beliefs."

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