Cost-free birth control for thousands is safe for now, after a federal appeals court on Friday blocked the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive mandate.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a district court decision issued in January that blocked regulations to allow virtually all employers to opt out of covering workers’ birth control for religious or moral reasons. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is expected to appeal the decision, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Judge Patty Schwartz, who was appointed by President Barack Obama and wrote for the court, said the ACA explicitly states that health insurance must cover preventative care, which federal officials decided later included contraceptive care. “Nowhere in the enabling statute did Congress grant the agency the authority to exempt entities from providing insurance coverage for such services,” Schwartz wrote.
While the contraceptive mandate is very popular among the general public — 77 percent of women and 64 percent of men support it — the Trump administration has tried to weaken it for Catholic employers who sued the Obama administration over the mandate in the past. But the decisions to those lawsuits weren’t as far-reaching as religious groups would like, so Trump officials sought to exempt them entirely.
The Trump administration maintained the regulations would only affect 70,500 women’s access to free birth control, but some groups argued far more people would be affected. It’s hard to know the scope of the impact for certain.
The mandate has significantly reduced out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs; one study estimates that birth control users saved $1.4 billion on the pill alone in 2013.
“Contraception is medicine– pure and simple,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro in statement; he and New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal brought the lawsuit against the Trump administration’s regulations. “This is a huge victory for women’s rights and the rule of law– two things the Trump Administration has disregarded from day one,” he added.
This is the Trump administration’s second attempt at issuing regulations that could withstand legal scrutiny. In 2017, the administration first issued rules to roll back the contraceptive mandate, but they were immediately blocked by a district court. So the administration tried again in November 2018, but federal courts continue to block them.
For a president who likes to boast about winning, his administration has lost a lot of legal battles. Just this week, one of the Trump administration’s big ideas for reining in drug prices was blocked in court. Over the last two years, federal judges have ruled against the administration at least 63 times.