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By Alex Johnson
A federal judge on Sunday temporarily blocked Trump administration rules allowing employers to refuse to provide free birth control from taking effect Monday in 13 states.
The regulations, which the Trump administration announced in October 2017, widened the pool of employers that are allowed to claim exemption from providing contraceptive coverage to include nonprofit groups, for-profit companies, other nongovernmental employers, and schools and universities.
Previously, only explicitly religious groups could opt out if they could show “sincerely held” religious objections.
In November, the Trump administration issued final rules to enact the broader exemptions beginning Monday. Thirteen states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington state, as well as Washington, D.C., sought the injunction to put the regulations on hold pending the states’ lawsuit opposing them.
U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam’s order — which applies only to the plaintiffs and not the rest of the country — found that there are “serious questions” about whether the new rules violate President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which stipulated that employer insurance plans must provide birth control services at no cost. Under current law, only explicitly religious organizations may opt out, as long as they could demonstrate a religious objection.
The U.S. Justice Department argued that the Affordable Care Act gave federal agencies the authority to exempt anyone they wish from the contraceptive mandate, but Gilliam found that the act provides no such authority and that the administration was claiming “unbridled discretion” to exempt “anyone they see fit.”
“The law couldn’t be clearer — employers have no business interfering in women’s healthcare decisions,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is leading the effort to overturn the rules, said in a statement.
“Today’s court ruling stops another attempt by the Trump Administration to trample on women’s access to basic reproductive care,” he said
The U.S. Justice Department argued that the rules protected only a small class of “sincere religious and moral objectors from being forced to facilitate practices that conflict with their beliefs.”
The Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the nonprofit political arm of Planned Parenthood, said Sunday: “Birth control IS health care — no matter what the Trump-Pence administration thinks or whether your boss agrees with it.”
Most Americans get their health insurance through their employers, and most employers voluntarily provide contraceptive coverage, government officials have said.