Judge blocks Trump birth control coverage rollback

By Danielle Haynes Follow @DanielleHaynes1 Contact the Author   |  Dec. 15, 2017 at 6:26 PM
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Dec. 15 (UPI) -- A federal judge in Pennsylvania on Friday temporarily blocked the Trump administration's move to roll back an Affordable Health Care provision requiring employers to provide coverage for birth control.

Under the new rule, companies and insurers may cite a moral or religious objection in order to opt out of the Obama-era federal rule requiring birth control be covered for free for all women.

The Trump administration cited support of freedom of religion when announcing the rollback in October.

U.S. District Court Judge Wendy Beetlestone granted a motion for a preliminary injunction after Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro sued the administration. She said the new rule could cause women "enormous and irreversible harm."

The injunction will remain in place as the lawsuit makes its way through the court.

Department of Justice spokesperson Lauren Ehrsam issued a statement to BuzzFeed News saying the administration disagrees with the ruling.

"This administration is committed to defending the religious liberty of all Americans and we look forward to doing so in court," she said.

The ACA mandate raised thorny legal issues when retail chain Hobby Lobby sued in 2013, citing a religious objection to the use of birth control. The Supreme Court sided with the chain's objection, leading former President Barack Obama to draft a compromise rule. That provision said employers aren't required to provide access to birth control, but women who sought contraception couldn't be denied access -- nor would they have to pay for it -- if they dealt directly with their insurance provider, essentially cutting their employer out of the process.

An estimated 55 million women have free access to birth control under the Obama-era rule. Hundreds of thousands could lose that coverage with the change.

The American Civil Liberties Union also sued the Trump administration. A news release from the organization said the interim rules violate the Establishment Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution by allowing religiously motivated discrimination against women.

"The Trump administration is forcing women to pay for their boss's religious beliefs," said ACLU senior staff attorney Brigitte Amiri. "We're filing this lawsuit because the federal government cannot authorize discrimination against women in the name of religion or otherwise."

The change is the Trump administration's latest challenge to the ACA. At the request of the president, Republican lawmakers in Congress have made repeated, but unsuccessful, attempts this year to repeal the landmark healthcare law. The Senate tax overhaul legislation would repeal the mandate requiring all Americans to have health insurance.

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