Law­suit tar­gets Trump’s roll­back of birth-con­trol rule

South Florida Times - - HEALTH -

By DAVID CRARY

Two na­tional ad­vo­cacy groups filed a fed­eral law­suit in In­di­ana on Tues­day chal­leng­ing a rule change by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion al­low­ing more em­ploy­ers to opt out of no-cost birth con­trol for work­ers.

The suit was filed on be­half of five women at risk of be­ing de­nied birth con­trol cov­er­age, in­clud­ing three Univer­sity of Notre Dame stu­dents. The Catholic school in north­ern In­di­ana re­cently told staff and stu­dents that it planned to halt no-cost con­tra­cep­tive cov­er­age start­ing next year. The Na­tional Women’s Law Cen­ter and Amer­i­cans United for Sep­a­ra­tion of Church and State filed the law­suit in a lo­cal U.S. Dis­trict Court.

Un­der new rules is­sued Oct. 7 by the U.S. De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, em­ploy­ers and uni­ver­si­ties are al­lowed to cite re­li­gious or moral ob­jec­tions in or­der to end birth con­trol cov­er­age that was avail­able un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Af­ford­able Care Act.

The law­suit ar­gues that the new rules — which have been as­sailed by many women’s rights and re­pro­duc­tive rights ac­tivists — vi­o­late the equal pro­tec­tion and due process guar­an­tees of the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion and the non-dis­crim­i­na­tion pro­vi­sion of the Af­ford­able Care Act.

“Block­ing ac­cess to ba­sic health care that 99 per­cent of women use at some point in their lives is un­law­ful, dis­crim­i­na­tory and harm­ful,” Fa­tima Goss Graves, CEO of the women’s law cen­ter, said in a state­ment. “Ev­ery­one de­serves birth con­trol cov­er­age, no mat­ter where they work, how they are in­sured, or where they go to school. Our law­suit aims to shut down this lat­est as­sault by Pres­i­dent Trump on women’s health, equal­ity, and eco­nomic se­cu­rity.”

The law­suit’s other plain­tiffs are an em­ployee at a univer­sity in Illi­nois and an em­ployee at an In­di­ana church whose in­sur­ance provider ob­jects to some forms of birth con­trol. The church em­ployee, Ali­cia Baker, said she was a sem­i­nary grad­u­ate as well as a mem­ber and em­ployee of her church.

“I be­lieve tak­ing birth con­trol in no way vi­o­lates my re­li­gious be­liefs,” she said. “It’s a per­sonal de­ci­sion I make to plan my fam­ily.”

The de­fen­dants named in the law­suit in­clude act­ing HHS Sec­re­tary Eric Har­gan, Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steve Mnuchin and La­bor Sec­re­tary Alexan­der Acosta. There was no im­me­di­ate com­ment about the law­suit from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The South Bend Tri­bune re­ported ear­lier that an email sent by Notre Dame to fac­ulty and staff on Fri­day showed that in­sur­ance cov­er­age for birth con­trol would end for em­ploy­ees on Jan. 1. Stu­dents un­der the school’s in­sur­ance plan, which pro­vides con­tra­cep­tives at no-cost through Aetna Stu­dent Health, would be cov­ered un­til Aug. 14.

The univer­sity’s med­i­cal plan will cover con­tra­cep­tives if they’re used to treat a spe­cific med­i­cal con­di­tion, not as a method to pre­vent preg­nancy. Those med­i­ca­tions will come with stan­dard pre­scrip­tion co­pay­ments.

Three or­ga­ni­za­tions that have been closely mon­i­tor­ing the birth-con­trol de­bate — Planned Par­ent­hood, the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union and the Na­tional Women’s Law Cen­ter — told The As­soci

ated Press that they knew of no other ma­jor in­sti­tu­tion that had taken the same step fol­low­ing Trump’s de­ci­sion.

Notre Dame, which is in South Bend, pre­vi­ously of­fered cov­er­age through third­party ad­min­is­tra­tor Mer­i­tain Health and pre­scrip­tion ben­e­fit man­ager Op­tumRX, which al­lowed the univer­sity to meet the fed­eral health care law’s re­quire­ment while main­tain­ing its re­li­gious op­po­si­tion to con­tra­cep­tives. A Planned Par­ent­hood clinic a few miles from cam­pus could also be an al­ter­na­tive op­tion for stu­dents look­ing for birth con­trol.

The univer­sity fought the law’s orig­i­nal man­date on re­li­gious grounds, but that law­suit was vol­un­tar­ily dis­missed on Oct. 17, after the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­moved the re­quire­ment.

Planned Par­ent­hood has launched a cam­paign that urges em­ploy­ers to pub­li­cally com­mit to con­tin­u­ing birth con­trol cov­er­age. The or­ga­ni­za­tion says birth con­trol opens up ed­u­ca­tion and ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties for women.

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