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Court blocks Trump’s efforts to provide religious exemptions from Obamacare birth control mandate

Martin M. Barillas Martin M. Barillas Follow Martin

SAN FRANCISCO, October 23, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) -- A federal court in California blocked efforts by the Trump administration to exempt religious organizations from Obamacare requirements that force employers to provide birth control as part of healthcare insurance.

In a 2-1 decision, a panel of judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that the Trump administration’s rules that allow exemptions for religious groups such as the Little Sisters of the Poor are contrary to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The Obama administration issued rules requiring all employers, including non-church religious organizations, to cover all forms of birth control free of charge to employees, including abortifacient devices and drugs. 

The decision on Tuesday blocked the Trump administration’s rules from going into effect in: California, Connecticut, Delaware,Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia. The judges ruled in a lawsuit brought by 14 state attorneys general to block the administration.

In 2017, exemptions were adopted by the Labor Department, the Health and Human Services Department and Treasury Department of the Trump administration and then finalized in 2018. However, they have not yet gone into effect.

While the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of religious exemptions for the Little Sisters in 2016, subsequent lawsuits found them in court again. 

Writing for the majority of the 9th Circuit, Judge J. Clifford Wallace declared, “The panel held that the religious exemption contradicts congressional intent that all women have access to appropriate preventative care and the exemption operates in a manner fully at odds with the careful, individualized, and searching review mandated by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

Voting with Wallace was Judge Susan B. Graber, a Bill Clinton appointee.

In the dissent, Senior Circuit Judge Andrew Kleinfeld, a George H.W. Bush appointee, argued that the states arguing against the Trump administration’s exemptions are more interested in cost savings than women’s health. “The casual reader may imagine that the dispute is about provision of contraception and abortion services to women,” Kleinfeld wrote, “It is not.”

Kleinfeld went on to declare that “No woman sued for an injunction in this case, and no affidavits have been submitted from any women establishing any question in this case about whether they will be deprived of reproductive services or harmed in any way by the modification of the regulation. This case is a claim by several states to prevent a modification of a regulation from going into effect, claiming that it will cost them money.”

Kleinfeld also noted that his colleague’s ruling is effectively redundant because the administration’s birth control exemption have already been stymied by a judge’s ruling in Pennsylvania. 

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat and former U.S. representative, led 13 other state attorneys general by challenging the administration in a lawsuit. In a statement, Becerra declared, “Today will serve as a reminder to the Trump administration that politicians and employers certainly have no business interfering with women’s reproductive healthcare.”

Earlier in October, President Donald Trump addressed the Family Research Council and referenced the Little Sisters of the Poor as part of his efforts to preserve religious liberty. 

“My administration has taken historic action to protect religious liberty,” he said. “We’re protecting the conscience rights of doctors and nurses and teachers and groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor - incredible people. And we’re preserving our country’s vital tradition of faith-based adoption.”

In arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016, the Obama administration admitted that it has the means to give abortifacient drugs to women without forcing participation of religious groups. For example, California and Pennsylvania provide for abortions free of charge to women who want them, funded by taxpayers. However, both states joined other states in forcing the federal mandate on non-profit religious groups such as the Little Sisters. 

Provisions of Obamacare force employers to provide birth control, including abortifacients, in healthcare insurance for employees. While businesses such as Hobby Lobby, which is owned by a Christian family, are not opposed to most forms of contraception, they are opposed to birth control that kills unborn babies.

The Obama administration provided exemptions to corporations, such as PepsiCo and ExxonMobil, but not to religious groups. While representing the Little Sisters, the Becket Foundation noted that Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, did not challenge the exemptions for those corporations. Like other pro-abortion politicians and attorneys general, Shapiro claims that the Trump administration has violated the First and Fifth Amendments while arguing that the administration is favoring the rights of religious groups over women’s rights.

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