A federal judge on Friday issued a temporary injunction to block President Trump’s executive order allowing any employer who objected to providing insurance coverage for contraceptives to opt out of doing so.
“Plaintiff, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, has demonstrated that it has met all four factors necessary to obtain a preliminary injunction,” wrote Judge Wendy Beetlestone of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “In this case … the Commonwealth is likely to suffer serious and irreparable harm in the absence of a preliminary injunction; the balance of the equities tips in favor of granting an injunction, and the public interest favors granting it as well. After weighing these four factors, as stated above, the Court concludes that a preliminary injunction is warranted.”
Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), employers were required to cover all forms of contraception with no co-pay. Certain religiously affiliated employers, such as churches or religious affiliated hospitals or universities, were exempted from this rule; however, once they signed paperwork stating that they did not want to provide coverage, the employer’s insurer or third-party administrator then had to provide that same coverage, with no co-pay, to employees who needed it.
But in October, the Trump administration issued an “interim final rule” that allowed employers to refuse to cover contraceptives for any moral or religious reason. It also no longer required employers to allow their insurers or third-party administrators to provide separate coverage, instead calling that arrangement an “optional” accommodation.
Several organizations and state governments sued to block the rule, including Pennsylvania; on Friday that state’s attorney general, Josh Shapiro, praised Beetlestone’s decision. “This is just the first step, but today is a critical victory for millions of women and families and for the rule of law,” Shapiro said in a statement. “The harm from this rule was immediate. Women need contraception for their health because contraception is medicine, pure and simple.”
“Women and families rely on the Affordable Care Act’s guarantee to afford contraception; before the ACA families spent thousands of dollars in co-pays for basic care,” he continued. “Congress hasn’t changed the law, so the president can’t simply ignore it with an illegal rule. We’re pleased we’ve won the first battle in our fight today and look forward to the next steps.”
Physicians for Reproductive Health, a group that supports reproductive rights, also applauded the ruling. “As doctors, we are relieved to see that a federal judge in Pennsylvania temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s recent rules that would have weakened the Affordable Care Act’s birth control requirement,” Anne Davis, MD, the group’s consulting medical director, said in a statement. “The rules would have left the vast majority of American women vulnerable to the whim of their employers.”
“The contraceptive coverage benefit under the Affordable Care Act has done so much to reduce the barriers to birth control that my patients frequently faced. We cannot go back to the days when patients couldn’t afford the birth control that helps them live healthier lives.”