Your Health

Bay Area judge blocks Trump administration's birth control exemptions

A Bay Area judge last week placed a preliminary injunction on an attempt by the Trump administration to eliminate access to free birth control, guaranteed to women through the Affordable Care Act, by allowing employers to deny contraception based on moral or religious grounds.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra headed a coalition of attorneys general from 13 states and the District of Columbia protesting the birth control exemptions, set to take effect Jan. 14. Oakland District Judge Haywood S. Gilliam’s decision to block the move came in under the wire Jan. 13.

The federal regulation sought to establish religious and moral exemptions to the contraceptive mandate in the ACA, passed in 2010.

In granting the injunction, Gilliam made it clear that there were two battling ideologies: “(those with) the interest in ensuring that health plans cover contraceptive services with no cost-sharing, as provided for under the ACA, and (those with) the interest in protecting ‘the sincerely held religious (and moral) objections of certain entities and individuals.’”

Gilliam’s 45-page order provides a comprehensive history behind the sequence of relevant events leading to his ruling, beginning with the enactment of the ACA and ending with the legal standard behind a preliminary injunction, described as “an extraordinary remedy that may only be awarded upon a clear showing that the plaintiff is entitled to such relief.”

In addition to California and Washington, D.C., Gilliam’s injunction temporarily blocks enactment of the exemptions in Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington. The Becerra-led coalition requested a nationwide block, but Gilliam denied it, noting that only the states covered had shown “reasonable probability that the (changes) will first lead to women losing employer-sponsored contraception coverage, which will then result in economic harm to the states.” For example, women who live in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and D.C. may commute to work in another state, the judge argued in his analysis.

In California, 7 million women benefit from reproductive health services through the ACA, according to a statement from Becerra’s office.

“The law couldn’t be clearer – employers have no business interfering in women’s health-care decisions,” Becerra said in the release. “Today’s court ruling stops another attempt by the Trump Administration to trample on women’s access to basic reproductive care. It’s 2019, yet the Trump Administration is still trying to roll back women’s rights. Our coalition will continue to fight to ensure women have access to the reproductive health care they are guaranteed under the law.”

A case management conference on the injunction is scheduled 2 p.m. today, with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services serving as the lead defendant.

“The parties should be prepared to discuss a plan for expeditiously resolving this matter on the merits,” Gilliam said.

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