Court Thwarts White House Effort to Keep Women From Free Contraception in 13 States

By Ayana Byrd Jan 14, 2019

Today (January 14), a federal rule goes into effect that allows employers not to cover contraception costs for workers if it goes against their moral or religious beliefs. However, yesterday, a federal judge decreed that people in 13 states and Washington, D.C. will not be affected.

The rule change was the second attempt by the Trump administration to overturn the part of the Affordable Care Act that required employers to provide health insurance that covers all methods of contraception approved for women by the Food and Drug Administration. After the rule change was proposed, 13 statesCalifornia, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai‘i, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington—and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit to oppose it.

Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr. of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California granted the request for a preliminary injunction, reports The New York Times, and in his decision, he wrote that the new rules “are nearly identical to” the ones he had previously blocked in 2017.

“Today’s court ruling stops another attempt by the Trump administration to trample on women’s access to basic reproductive care,” Xavier Becerra, the attorney general of California, said in a statement. “It’s 2019, yet the Trump administration is still trying to roll back women’s rights. Our coalition will continue to fight to ensure women have access to the reproductive health care they are guaranteed under the law.”

Reproductive rights advocates also applauded the court decision. Dr. Jenn Conti of Physicians for Reproductive Health said in an emailed statement, “No matter where you work, everyone needs and deserves birth control access. An employer’s beliefs have no place in these private decisions, just as they would not in any other conversation about a patient’s health care. It’s a dangerous intrusion into their privacy and their ability to get the care they need.”

As Colorlines previously reported, weeks after the November announcement that the Trump administration had overturned the Obama-era mandate, the federal government offered a proposed rule that it said would help women obtain free contraception: they could become legally classified as “low-income” and use the already resource-strapped Title X program.

In response to the proposed rule, Clare Coleman, president and chief executive of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, told The New York Times that it would “hijack Title X programs and use their limited federal funds to subsidize employers’ refusal to comply with the contraceptive coverage requirement.”

The judge’s decision does not apply to women who live outside the 13 states (plus Washington D.C.) that filed the lawsuit. That means that as of today, they are no longer guaranteed free contraception under their employers’ health insurance plans.