Federal Judge Blocks Employers From Opting Out of Birth Control Coverage

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on January 15, 2019 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

At the eleventh hour, one judge in Philadelphia blocked employers from opting out of providing birth control coverage to employees.

The Trump Administration, specifically the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor and Treasury, issued new federal laws in October 2018, allowing business and nonprofits to opt out of offering birth control through their employee's health insurance plans. That rule, set to go into effect on January 14, 2019, was brought to a grinding halt, courtesy of U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone in Philadelphia.

Nationwide Preliminary Injunction Barring Trump's Birth Control Opt-Out

Beetlestone issued a nationwide injunction, which stops the laws from being enforced. According to Beetlestone, these rules are outside the scope of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, and must be stopped from going into effect. "The negative effects of even a short period of decreased access to no-cost contraceptive services are irreversible," Beetlestone said. This ruling comes one day after a California judge issued a similar ruling, which was limited to only the 13 states and the District of Columbia filing the lawsuit, based on restrictions specifically placed on the judge by the local appeals court. 

In that case, U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr. in Oakland, California, granted plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction in a very similar case. Gilliam originally wanted the preliminary injunction to effect all fifty states. But the jurisdiction's appeals court claimed that Gilliam's injunction had to be limited to the fourteen states that filed the lawsuit, which included: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington State and the District of Columbia. Oregon filed a motion to join the suit on January 7, 2019, but that motion is still pending.

No American Should Be Forced to Violate His or Her Own Conscience

Both sides of the lawsuit seemed to agree on something. The HHS spokesperson Caitlin Oakley said in a statement that "no American should be forced to violate his or her own conscience in order to abide by the laws and regulations governing our health care system," and added that the new rules "uphold the freedoms afforded all Americans under our Constitution." Plaintiffs likely agree with this statement, but believe that abiding by these new laws, people may very well be forced to violate their conscience, needing an abortion instead of birth control, and that all Americans should be able to get free birth control, and not just the ones working for employers that haven't opted out of providing this benefit.

The Trump administration is expected to appeal this ruling, but so far has not issued such a statement.

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