Judge: Women would lose birth control help

New fed­eral rules to let more em­ploy­ers opt out

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - NATION - By Sud­hin Thanawala

OAK­LAND, Calif. — A “sub­stan­tial num­ber” of women would lose birth control cov­er­age un­der new rules by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion that al­low more em­ploy­ers to opt out of pro­vid­ing the ben­e­fit, a fed­eral judge said at a hear­ing Fri­day.

Judge Hay­wood Gil­liam ap­peared in­clined to grant a re­quest by Cal­i­for­nia and other states that he block the rules while the states’ law­suit moves for­ward. He said he would rule be­fore Mon­day, when the rules are set to take effect.

The changes would al­low more em­ploy­ers, in­clud­ing publicly traded com­pa­nies, to opt out of pro­vid­ing no-cost con­tra­cep­tive cov­er­age to women by claim­ing re­li­gious ob­jec­tions. Some pri­vate em­ploy­ers could also ob­ject on moral grounds.

Gil­liam said the new rules would be a “mas­sive pol­icy shift” to women who lose cov­er­age.

The judge pre­vi­ously blocked an in­terim ver­sion of the rules — a de­ci­sion that was up­held in De­cem­ber by an ap­peals court.

The case is be­fore him again after the ad­min­is­tra­tion fi­nal­ized the mea­sures in Novem­ber, prompt­ing a re­newed le­gal challenge by Cal­i­for­nia and other states. Twelve other states, in­clud­ing New York and North Carolina, along with the District of Co­lum­bia, have joined Cal­i­for­nia in the law­suit.

At is­sue is a re­quire­ment un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health care law that birth control ser­vices be cov­ered at no ad­di­tional cost. Obama of­fi­cials in­cluded ex­emp­tions for re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions and some busi­nesses. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­panded those ex­emp­tions and added “moral con­vic­tions” as a ba­sis to opt out of pro­vid­ing birth control ser­vices.

Karli Eisen­berg, an at­tor­ney for Cal­i­for­nia, told Gil­liam on Fri­day the loss of free con­tra­cep­tive cov­er­age from em­ploy­ers would force women to turn to gov­ern­ment pro­grams that pro­vide birth control, and if they are in­el­i­gi­ble for those, in­crease the risk of un­in­tended preg­nan­cies.

“It’s undis­puted that these rules will cre­ate bar­ri­ers,” she said.

The rules vi­o­late the Affordable Care Act, in­clud­ing a pro­vi­sion that for­bids dis­crim­i­na­tion, she said.

Justin Sand­berg, an at­tor­ney for the U.S. De­part­ment of Jus­tice, said the health care law al­ready had ex­emp­tions for con­tra­cep­tive cov­er­age that left mil­lions of women with­out the ben­e­fit. He said the birth control re­quire­ment was a “sub­stan­tial bur­den” on em­ploy­ers with re­li­gious ob­jec­tions.

The rules “pro­tect a nar­row class of sin­cere re­li­gious and moral ob­jec­tors from be­ing forced to fa­cil­i­tate prac­tices that con­flict with their be­liefs,” the De­part­ment of Jus­tice said in court doc­u­ments.

The states ar­gue that mil­lions of women could lose free birth control ser­vices un­der the new rules.

Gil­liam ques­tioned whether a na­tion­wide in­junc­tion was ap­pro­pri­ate. He noted that a fed­eral judge in Mas­sachusetts had ruled against a sim­i­lar challenge to the birth control rules, but a na­tion­wide in­junc­tion would none­the­less block them in that state.

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