States ask judge to press pause on new birth-control coverage exemptions

Five states have fired the opening salvo in a lawsuit challenging new Trump administration regulations that chip away at the Affordable Care Act’s birth control coverage mandate.

The states—California, New York, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia—asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California for an injunction to prevent the implementation of the rules, arguing that they “drastically impair access to contraceptive coverage” for women and allow employers to discriminate against female employees.

“Healthcare decisions should be made by a woman—not her boss,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. “These retrograde rules seek to deny basic healthcare to millions of women in New York and across the country.”

The filing is part of a federal lawsuit brought by the five states’ attorneys general earlier this month. In the states’ petition for an injunction, they argue that the status quo should be preserved at least until their litigation is resolved.

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Since a Supreme Court ruling in 2014, “closely held” private companies have been able to apply for an exemption to the ACA provision that requires employers to provide cost-free contraceptive coverage to their employees. But a new interim final rule, issued in October, goes further by allowing any employer or college/university with a student health plan to seek an exemption based on religious beliefs.

Another new regulation would create an exemption for “non-religious organizations with sincerely held moral convictions inconsistent with providing coverage for some or all contraceptive services.” That regulation appears to be tailored to two groups that are against abortion—March for Life and Real Alternatives.

Since the rules were released, they’ve been met with opposition from advocacy groups and medical societies. But the group National Right to Life welcomed the new rules, saying they protect “moral and religious rights of conscience.” 

In October, Notre Dame University announced it would stop providing birth control coverage to students and employees at the end of the plan year, but the school has since reversed that decision after facing backlash, according to CNN Money. 

Even before the Trump administration took action, some states had already taken steps to prepare for the possibility that a Republican-controlled federal government would take aim at the ACA. New York, for example, issued emergency regulations in June that would keep several of the law’s provisions intact—including access to cost-free contraception.