Crime & Justice

Judge Blocks Trump Birth Control Policy In 13 States And D.C.

In this 2014 photo, demonstrators react to hearing the Supreme Court's decision on the Hobby Lobby birth control case outside the Supreme Court in Washington. A judge in California has blocked implementation of a Trump administration policy that would let more employers decline to offer birth control coverage on religious or moral grounds.
In this 2014 photo, demonstrators react to hearing the Supreme Court's decision on the Hobby Lobby birth control case outside the Supreme Court in Washington. A judge in California has blocked implementation of a Trump administration policy that would let more employers decline to offer birth control coverage on religious or moral grounds.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

A federal judge has blocked a Trump administration rule that would greatly expand the number of employers that could decline to offer contraceptive coverage on moral or religious grounds.

The policy was set to go into effect nationwide Monday, but that's been put on hold for 13 states and the District of Columbia, which challenged the rule in court.

The Affordable Care Act requires most companies to offer employees health insurance that covers FDA-approved birth control at no cost. But Trump has long promised employers that he would "vigorously" protect their rights to religious freedom. So the Trump administration developed rules to make it easier for more employers to opt out of the ACA requirement.

The challengers "have raised serious questions going to the merits, on their claim that the Religious Exemption and the Moral Exemption are inconsistent with the Women's Health Amendment," wrote Judge Haywood Gilliam, Jr., who was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2014. The states had argued that the new policy "cannot be reconciled with the text and purpose of the ACA — which seeks to promote access to women's healthcare, not limit it."

The Women's Health Amendment is the provision of the ACA that requires employer-provided health insurance to include coverage for free or low-cost birth control. Gilliam said that if he didn't block Trump's new policy, tens of thousands of women could lose that coverage.

"The law couldn't be clearer — employers have no business interfering in women's healthcare decisions," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement applauding the ruling. "Today's court ruling stops another attempt by the Trump Administration to trample on women's access to basic reproductive care."

The Trump administration amended the ACA in 2017 to protect the "conscience rights" of employers, letting them opt out of offering birth control coverage. The Trump administration's new policy was an attempt to considerably expand the previous religious-based exemptions, which only applied to religious employers. Trump's policy was immediately challenged in court.

The Supreme Court's 2014 Hobby Lobby decision found that privately-held companies with religious objections could refuse to offer contraceptive coverage. The 5-4 decision ruled that those companies "have the right to exercise their religious beliefs even if it means that their beliefs will impose certain restrictions on their employees," NPR's Nina Totenberg reported. Trump's new policy would also allow publicly-traded companies to opt out of contraceptive coverage based on religious or moral grounds, the Associated Press reported.

The judge's ruling blocks the policy from taking effect in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.