Dual rulings block Trump administration on birth control coverage nationwide

Packs of birth control pills
The Women's Health Amendment in the Affordable Care Act requires employer-provided health insurance to include coverage for free or low-cost birth control. (Getty/areeya_ann)

Editor's note: This story has been changed to reflect an additional court decision on Monday.

Dual rulings have blocked the Trump administration's new rules lifting some employers' requirements to provide birth control coverage that were set to go into effect on Monday.

Over the weekend, a federal judge in California issued a preliminary injunction blocking the rules which would have allowed companies to opt out of providing female employees with no-cost birth control. That ruling impacted 13 states and Washington, D.C.

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Then, on Monday, a federal judge in Pennsylvania weighed in, saying the rules allowing businesses to avoid paying for birth control could not be enforced anywhere in the nation, the Associated Press reported

At issue has been the Women's Health Amendment, a popular provision of the Affordable Care Act that required employer-provided insurance to cover birth control for free or at low rates. Initially, only religious employers could opt out, but that changed after the Hobby Lobby decision when the Supreme Court ruled that privately held companies with religious objections could opt out of the policy.

President Donald Trump, who campaigned against the amendment, announced new rules in 2017 that would expand the opt-out option to publicly held companies. The rules were immediately challenged in court.

"The law couldn't be clearer—employers have no business interfering in women's healthcare decisions," said Xavier Becerra, attorney general of California, one of the states affected by Gilliam's decision.

RELATED: Trump administration revisits moral and religious exemptions for birth control coverage

In California, Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr. wrote (PDF) the states "have raised serious questions going to the merits, on their claim that the Religious Exemption and the Moral Exemption are inconsistent with the Women's Health Amendment," wrote Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr. (PDF).

Gilliam said in his decision that the policy, if enacted, could cause tens of thousands of women to lose their birth control coverage. Gilliam's ruling initially blocked the new rules from going into effect in California, Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington state.

The process has followed an increasingly familiar pattern of policymaking in the Trump administration: Instead of seeking policy changes through Congress, the White House issues an executive order. Then Democratic-controlled states file a lawsuit, a judge from one of those states blocks the new rules and the case goes to the Supreme Court for a final decision.

 

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