A US judge in California on Sunday blocked Trump administration rules, which would allow more employers to opt out of providing women with no-cost birth control, from taking effect in 13 states and Washington, DC.
Judge Haywood Gilliam granted a request for a preliminary injunction by California, 12 other states and Washington, DC. The plaintiffs sought to prevent the rules from taking effect as scheduled on Monday while a lawsuit against them moved forward.
But Gilliam limited the scope of the ruling to the plaintiffs, rejecting their request that he block the rules nationwide.
The changes would allow more employers, including publicly traded companies, to opt out of providing no-cost contraceptive coverage to women by claiming religious objections. Some private employers could also object on moral grounds.
California and the other states argue that women would be forced to turn to state-funded programmes for birth control and experience unintended pregnancies.
“The law couldn’t be more clear – employers have no business interfering in women’s healthcare decisions,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement Sunday.
The states involved also include Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.
The US Department of Justice said in court documents the rules “protect a narrow class of sincere religious and moral objectors from being forced to facilitate practices that conflict with their beliefs”.
At issue is a requirement under President Barack Obama’s healthcare law that birth control services be covered at no additional cost. Obama officials included exemptions for religious organisations. The Trump administration expanded those exemptions and added “moral convictions” as a basis to opt out of providing birth control services.
Conservative Christian activists and congressional Republicans praised the move, while reproductive rights advocates and Democrats criticised it.
At a hearing on Friday, Gilliam said the changes would result in a “substantial number” of women losing birth control coverage, which would be a “massive policy shift”.
The judge previously blocked an interim version of the rules – a decision that was upheld in December by an appeals court.
On Monday, another federal judge in Pennsylvania blocked the Trump administration from enforcing new rules allowing employers to obtain exemptions from an Obamacare requirement that they provide health insurance that covers women’s birth control.
US District Judge Wendy Beetlestone in Philadelphia issued a nationwide injunction preventing the rules from taking effect.
Reproductive rights groups and their supporters accuse the Trump administration of launching an attack on women’s health.
“Today’s court ruling stops another attempt by the Trump Administration to trample on women’s access to basic reproductive care,” Attorney General Becerra said. “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 healthcare they are guaranteed under the law.”
Since taking office, Trump has reinstated and expanded the Global Gag Rule, which bans international organisations that receive US funding from providing abortion services or offering information about the procedure. Trump has also appointed well-known anti-abortion rights activists to key posts within federal departments dealing with women’s health.
Leana Wen, the President of Planned Parenthood America, tweeted that Sunday was a “good day”.
“Birth control is critical healthcare that helps millions lead the lives they want,” she said. “We should be finding ways to increase access, not limit it.”