Cost-free contraception for thousands is safe, after Pennsylvania District Judge Wendy Beetlestone temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s rollback of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) birth control mandate on Monday, issuing a nationwide injunction.
The administration aims to allow virtually all employers (including universities and colleges, by way of student health plans) the right to refuse to cover employees’ birth control by citing religious or moral objections. But the courts haven’t let the policy take effect for long.
A California judge already blocked the administration’s regulations in 13 states and Washington, D.C., on Sunday evening, though the regulations did briefly carry out everywhere else in the country on Monday before the nationwide injunction was issued. District Judge Haywood Gilliam was the first jurist to reach a decision, but limited the scope of his ruling to plaintiffs states and rejected a request for a nationwide injunction.
The Trump administration claimed the regulations would affect 70,500 women’s access to cost-free contraception, but some organizations have disputed this estimate, saying a far greater number would be impacted.
🚨 COURT WIN 🚨
— AG Josh Shapiro (@PAAttorneyGen) January 14, 2019
The administration is likely to appeal the decision to the Third and Ninth Circuits — as it did when Beetlestone and Gilliam blocked the policy the first time the administration issued similar regulations in 2017. The lawsuits returned to the lower courts after the administration issued new regulations in November 2018 (effective Jan. 14, 2019).
That said, the Justice Department has been asking federal courts to pause most of its cases during the partial government shutdown, so there’s a chance this lawsuit isn’t quickly appealed.
While the mandate is popular with the general public, religious organizations took issue with it and sued the Obama administration over the requirement that health plans cover at least one of 18 FDA-approved contraceptive methods without cost-sharing. The Obama administration originally exempted religious houses of worship and later accommodated other religiously-affiliated groups. The Supreme Court, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, extended the accommodation to “closely held” private businesses in addition to religiously-affiliated non-profits.
But the “accommodation” — meaning, employers don’t have to pay for contraception, but a third party will for employees — wasn’t enough for religious groups. For this reason, the Trump administration issued new regulations, opening the door for more employers to seek an exemption rather than an accommodation.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 10 percent of nonprofits with 5,000 or more employees asked for an accommodation as of 2015. These employees and their dependents still have access to cost-free contraception, but run the risk of no access should the administration’s policy take effect.
This story has been updated with additional information about the scope of the regulations.