A federal judge on Sunday blocked the Trump administration’s roll back of Obamacare’s birth control mandate, protecting contraceptive coverage for residents living in 13 states and Washington, D.C.
The administration’s policy, which allows more employers to avoid providing their employees birth control coverage, was supposed to take effect on Monday.
But a California district judge sided with Democratic attorneys general who sued the administration, temporarily barring enforcement of the regulations in their 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.
A similar lawsuit is playing out in a Pennsylvania federal courthouse — meaning, there’s a chance for another court to issue a nationwide injunction. District Judge Haywood Gilliam was the first jurist to reach a decision. Gilliam limited the scope of his ruling to the plaintiffs and rejected a request to block the rules nationwide.
“Today is a good day. Because of this injunction, women in 13 states can still access birth control under the ACA. Birth control is critical healthcare that helps millions lead the lives they want. We should be finding ways to increase access, not limit it,” tweeted Planned Parenthood President Dr. Leana Wen.
Obamacare’s birth control mandate requires employers to offer birth control coverage at no additional cost to their employees, and has significantly reduced people’s out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs. One study estimates that women saved $1.4 billion on the birth control pill alone in 2013.
The Trump administration, in the name of religious liberty, issued regulations last fall that permitted virtually all employers to object to the mandate for religious grounds or “moral” reasons.
While the Obamacare mandate is very popular with the public — 77 percent of women and 64 percent of men support no-cost coverage — it’s been the subject of many lawsuits brought by the religious right. The Trump administration’s rules are an attempt to ensure religious groups don’t have to sue to refuse employees coverage.
This is the second time Gilliam has blocked this particular Trump administration policy. After the administration in October 2017 issued interim final regulations — meaning, new regulations without notice and comment — Gilliam and a Pennsylvania district judge blocked them two months later. The administration tried again in November 2018, issuing rules very similar ones it proposed a year earlier.
The administration says the regulations will affect 70,500 women’s access to cost-free contraception, but some organizations have disputed this estimate, saying a far greater number of women will be impacted.
The administration’s rollback of the birth control mandate isn’t the only avenue it’s using to attack reproductive health care.
Officials proposed regulations last year to prohibit health care providers that offer abortion services — like Planned Parenthood — from participating in the Title X family planning program, and to bar clinics from saying abortion during pregnancy counseling.
A final version of the so-called Title X “gag rule” is expected to be released any day now — likely after the partial government shutdown ends, sources tell ThinkProgress.
The Trump administration says patients whose employers won’t offer them birth control coverage because of a religious or moral exemption can go to Title X clinics to get contraception.
But officials also proposed eliminating the requirement that Title X providers offer the full range of family planning methods, and want to direct money to religiously-affiliated organizations that promote abstinence as a method of family planning.