A federal judge in Pennsylvania has temporarily blocked enforcement nationwide of Trump administration rule changes that would make it easier for employers to deny birth control coverage in their health benefits.
Under the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration required companies that provide employee health insurance to cover birth control at no additional cost, assuring access to contraception for 62 million women. Only certain religious organizations, such as churches and some private companies, could be exempted. Trump vastly expanded the exemptions to nearly any employer who cites a religious or moral objection. Even publicly traded companies could opt out for religious reasons.
U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone issued an injunction blocking the changes in a stinging ruling Friday supporting a lawsuit brought by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Shapiro, a Democrat, argued that the Trump administration ignored proper procedure when it changed the rules.
The suit also said the rules violate the right to equal protection, because they pertain only to women, and the First Amendment, by putting employers’ religious beliefs above the rights of women.
Beetlestone called the exemptions “sweeping” and said the Affordable Care Act includes no language allowing federal agencies to make such changes. She criticized the changes as the “proverbial exception that swallows the rule.”
The new rules “conjured up a world where a government entity is empowered to impose its own version of morality on each one of us. That cannot be right,” she wrote in her opinion.
“The potential harm faced by Pennsylvanian women and across the nation is enormous and irreversible,” she said. As employers benefit from the new rules, “access to no-cost contraceptive services for many women will be severely curtailed.”
Beetlestone said that the Pennsylvania case is likely to ultimately succeed and that the Trump administration did not follow “proper procedure.”
Shapiro hailed the judge’s ruling, calling it “just the first step,” adding: “Today is a critical victory for millions of women and families and for the rule of law.”
Justice Department spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam told The New York Times, “We disagree with the court’s ruling and are evaluating next steps.”
California, Washington and Massachusetts have also sued over the changes. New York, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia have joined the California court action.