Federal Judge Grants Injunction Against Trump Admin’s Expansion of Religious Exemption to Obamacare

Photo Credit: Bryan Calabro

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — A federal judge has granted an injunction against the Trump administration’s recent expansion of the religious exemption to the Obamacare contraceptive mandate, also known as the “abortion pill mandate,” opining that it could increase state spending for contraceptive programs.

“[T]he court finds that it is likely that the new IFRs will result in direct and irreparable harm to the Commonwealth’s fiscal integrity: The Commonwealth will become obligated to shoulder much of the burden of providing contraceptive services to those women who lose it because their health plans will opt out of coverage,” wrote Judge Wendy Beetlestone on Friday, who was appointed to the bench by then-President Barack Obama.

She also agreed with the Plaintiffs that there will be increased unintended pregnancies if there is decreased access to contraceptives.

“The real life consequences, as amici point out, are significant: roughly 41% of unintended pregnancies in America are caused by inconsistent use of contraceptives. These problems are particularly acute in Pennsylvania, where the rate of unintended pregnancy is 53%, significantly higher than the national average,” Beetlestone stated. “The negative effects of even a short period of decreased access to no-cost contraceptive services are irreversible.”

In October, Pennsylvania General Josh Shapiro filed a lawsuit against the new rules, holding a press conference at Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia in expressing his objection.

“The federal government—under the direction of the Trump administration—broke the law and undermined the health and economic independence of American women,” he asserted. “The administration’s illegal rules threaten the health coverage of 2.5 million Pennsylvania women.”

“Previously, exceptions to this mandate were extremely narrow. Now, as a result of these new rules, virtually any employer can refuse to provide coverage for contraceptive services for their employees, who will now have to pay more for health care,” Shapiro said.

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As previously reported, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued interim final rules that same month, noting that the Obamacare mandate, as applied to those with sincerely-held religious beliefs, did not serve a compelling enough government interest. It noted, for example, that Hobby Lobby does not oppose all contraceptives, but only the few that it considers to be abortifacients.

“With respect to organizations and entities holding those beliefs, the fact that they are willing to provide coverage for various contraceptive methods significantly detracts from the government interest in requiring that they provide coverage for other contraceptive methods to which they object,” HHS explained.

The department further noted that “[s]ome of the religious nonprofit groups challenging the accommodation claim that their employees are required to adhere to a statement of faith which includes the entities’ views on certain contraceptive items,” and such organizations have a right to choose to hire individuals based on whether or not they will respect the nonprofit’s values.

HHS also outlined that many states have contraceptive programs of their own, which “significantly diminishes the government’s interest in applying the mandate to employers over their sincerely held religious objections.”

However, Shapiro argued that allowing religious employers to opt out of contraceptive coverage will place a greater financial burden on the Commonwealth.

“Where employers refuse to allow their health insurance plans to cover access to contraception, the Commonwealth will be forced to bear additional health care costs, in part, due to an increase in unintended pregnancies. Unintended pregnancies already cost the Commonwealth over $248 million per year and will surely cost more if contraception access and use decline,” he wrote in his legal complaint.

“In addition, the Commonwealth possesses strong interests in protecting the medical and economic health of its residents, minimizing unintended pregnancies and abortions, and ensuring that all of its residents—both men and women—are free and able to fully participate in the workforce, maximize their social and economic status, and contribute to Pennsylvania’s economy without facing discrimination on the basis of sex,” Sharpiro argued.

Beetlestone agreed with Shapiro, granting the preliminary injunction out of her belief that the Commonwealth has met the standard to obtain relief.

“Here, given the Commonwealth’s clear interest in securing the health and well-being of its women residents and containing its costs for contraceptive services, the balance of the equities heavily weighs in its favor,” she wrote.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson have also filed suit against the expanded religious accommodation.

“These states are specifically targeting religious groups. Pennsylvania has never required anyone to provide contraceptives,” Becket attorney Mark Rienzi lamented in a conference call with reporters, according to TownHall. “Now Pennsylvania is claiming religious groups have to provide [coverage for] these services.”

“Legally, there is no good argument for what these states are doing,” he said.

As previously reported, some Christians decline to use birth control as they desire for God to determine the size of their family instead of declaring themselves to be the master of their own destiny. Christians also believe, in accordance with Scripture, that sex should be saved for marriage.

“[P]racticing birth control is in essence an attempt to lock Sovereign God out of one of the most important areas of our lives. Do not think that it is insignificant, for all things that we do are significant, and is an evidence of the condition of our hearts,” once commented Tony Warren of the Center for Biblical Theology and Escatology. “[W]e must address this question straightforwardly and honestly, and have the contrite spirit to surrender to the authority of Scripture over our own selfish motives. We are not the Lord of our lives, Christ is. Therefore, our prayers are not of insistence, but in child-like humility, ‘Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.’”

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