Birth Control The decision, whichmay be appealed, ramps up the culture war triggered by PresidentDonald Trump's attempt to extend “religious freedom” rights fromchurches to companies. (Photo: Shutterstock)

|

The Trump administration's effort to let companies with religious or moral objections opt out ofObamacare requirements that they offer free contraception coverage in their employee healthcare plans hit a road block in a California court on the eve of thenew rules taking effect.

|

U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam in Oakland issued apreliminary injunction against the final rules for the newAffordable Care Act exemption on Sunday, though he limited it tothe 13 states that sued, plus the District of Columbia.

|

Related: Trump rule limits Obamacare's birth controlcoverage requirement

|

The decision, which may be appealed, ramps up the culture wartriggered by President Donald Trump's attempt to extend “religiousfreedom” rights from churches to companies — a move that in 2017triggered litigation backed by rights groups and Democratic-ledstates.

|

“The law couldn't be clearer – employers have no businessinterfering in women's health-care decisions,” California AttorneyGeneral Xavier Becerra, who led the state coalition, said in astatement. “Today's court ruling stops another attempt by the TrumpAdministration to trample on women's access to basic reproductivecare.”

'Dire' consequences

The other states impacted by the ruling are Connecticut,Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, NorthCarolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington.

|

“No American should be forced to violate his or her ownconscience in order to abide by the laws and regulations governingour healthcare system,” Caitlin Oakley, a spokeswoman for the U.S.Department of Health & Human Services, said in an email.

|

Gilliam said the states hadn't met the high threshold requiredfor granting a nationwide injunction, despite showing they face“potentially dire public health and fiscal consequences from theimplementation of the final rules.” Still, he added that “the courtfully recognizes that limiting the scope of this injunction to thePlaintiff States means that women in other states are at risk oflosing access to cost-free contraceptives when the final rules takeeffect.”

|

There is still a chance that a nationwide injunction could beissued in a separate case by Pennsylvania Attorney General JoshShapiro and his New Jersey counterpart, Gurbir Grewal. Leana Wen, adoctor and president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America,said the organization is waiting for that ruling to see if women inthe rest of the country will have the same access to birth controlunder the ACA.

|

“Affordable, accessible birth control is why the U.S. hasreached the lowest unintended pregnancy rate in 30 years,” Wen saidin a statement. “It's time that politicians recognize birth controlas health care and that women, in consultation with doctors, decidewhat contraception we receive — not our employers.”

'Moral exemption'

Gilliam said the religious exemption has the effect of“depriving female employees, students and other beneficiaries” oftheir right to “seamlessly-provided contraceptive coverage at nocost.”

|

He set a hearing for Jan. 23.

|

An interim version of the new rules was previously blockednationwide by Gilliam and by a Philadelphia judge, though a SanFrancisco-based appeals court later said Gilliam should havelimited the scope of his injunction to the states in California'scoalition. A lawsuit by the Massachusetts attorney general wasrejected on the grounds that the state didn't have standing to sue.That ruling is on appeal.

|

Haywood's ruling, for now, blocks the religious and moralexemptions to the Obamacare requirement from taking effect in theCalifornia-led group of states while the litigation plays out,potentially heading to trial. The U.S. Supreme Court will probablyhave the final say on the matter.

|

Religious organizations are already exempted, but Trump seeks toroll back the free contraception requirement for more categories ofemployers, including publicly traded companies.

|

“It is a good day when a court stops this administration fromsanctioning discrimination under the guise of religion ormorality,” the American Civil Liberties Union said in astatement.

|

— With assistance by Christian Berthelsen

|

Read more:

Copyright 2019 Bloomberg. All rightsreserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten,or redistributed.

Complete your profile to continue reading and get FREE access to BenefitsPRO, part of your ALM digital membership.

  • Critical BenefitsPRO information including cutting edge post-reform success strategies, access to educational webcasts and videos, resources from industry leaders, and informative Newsletters.
  • Exclusive discounts on ALM, BenefitsPRO magazine and BenefitsPRO.com events
  • Access to other award-winning ALM websites including ThinkAdvisor.com and Law.com
NOT FOR REPRINT

© 2024 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from www.copyright.com. All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.