Federal judge freezes Trump's religious and moral exemptions to Obamacare contraception mandate

By | January 15, 2019

A Pennsylvania district court judge on Monday blocked the Trump administration’s exemptions from the federal birth control rules from taking effect across the U.S., less than 24 hours after a similar hold was placed in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

The revised rules, which allow employers to opt out of a requirement that they offer health insurance that covers birth control at no cost to their employees, had been in effect in the rest of the U.S. for less than a day before the ruling was handed down. On Sunday, a California judge blocked them from going into effect in D.C. and 13 states.

The mandate requires that employers must contract with a health insurer that covers the range of options that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, from the pill to intrauterine devices to emergency contraception. The Trump rules allow employers to object to providing contraception for religious or moral reasons.

The decision to block the exemptions was issued Monday afternoon by Judge Wendy Beetlestone, an appointee of former President Barack Obama. The decision Sunday to block the rules from taking effect was issued by Judge Haywood Gilliam, also an Obama nominee.

Beetlestone wrote in her decision for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania that the Trump rules would harm state finances and would cause unplanned pregnancies. She also agreed with the plaintiffs, who come from Democratic-run states such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, that the Trump administration had not followed proper procedures when it issued its rules.

The birth control mandate is an outgrowth of Obamacare. The law was written to allow the Department of Health and Human Services to decide what type of preventive care health insurance plans should cover without copays, and the Obama administration determined that all forms of birth control should be included.

The obligation previously had exemptions for houses of worship, but not for businesses or nonprofit organizations. Those who didn’t comply would be fined, and after the Supreme Court asked the Obama administration to find a workaround, groups again challenged them in court.

The Trump administration wrote its own rules that loosened the exemptions, addressing concerns of anti-abortion and religious organizations. Some organizations oppose all forms of birth control and sterilization, while others oppose specific kinds, such as intrauterine devices and emergency contraception, which they say are abortifacients because their labels say they can prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus.

The religious exemption applies to any type of employer, but the moral exemption doesn’t apply to publicly traded businesses or government entities. The administration has estimated that between 6,400 and 127,000 women will be affected.