Judges Block Trump Administration's Attempt to Limit Contraceptive Coverage

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

January 18, 2019

A pair of federal judges have blocked the Trump administration's new rules that would have made it easier for employers to refuse to offer birth control coverage for moral or religious reasons.

In issuing a nationwide preliminary injunction earlier this week, US District Judge Wendy Beetlestone called the administration's policy of placing stricter limits on contraceptives than other types of preventive care "inconsistent with the text" of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). She also ruled the policy would harm the states significantly because women who lost their contraceptive coverage would inevitably seek state-funded contraceptive services and the result would be increased health care costs.

The ACA mandates that birth control services be covered at no additional cost to employees. But under rules issued in October 2017, the Trump administration allowed for-profit companies to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage under the ACA if they had religious or moral objections. Attorneys General in five states - including California and New York - successfully challenged the rules as an "unlawful overreach."

But in November 2018, the administration published revised rules emphasizing that female employees could use alternatives such as family-planning clinics instead of seeking birth control services through the ACA. This time, 13 states plus the District of Columbia sued to stop the rules from taking effect.

On January 13, a federal judge in California, US District Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr., sided with those states and blocked enforcement of the rules. He found that the 13 states would otherwise have to pay for costs associated with unintended pregnancies.

One day later, Judge Beetlestone reached a similar result but issued a broader injunction to place the Trump administration's rules on hold nationwide, and not just in those states that filed the lawsuit. Her ruling came down the same day that the rules were slated to take effect. Federal health officials had estimated that more than 70,000 women would lose coverage under the policy.