Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Challenging Trump Admin’s Expanded Religious Exemptions to Contraceptive Mandate

BOSTON — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the Trump administration that challenged its recent expansion of protections for religious employers who are opposed to the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare, also known as the “abortion pill mandate.”

U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton, appointed to the bench by then-President George H.W. Bush, found that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had no standing to sue over the protections, as Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill in November requiring employers to provide insurance that includes zero co-pay contraceptive coverage.

“[B]ecause the plaintiff has not demonstrated that any particular women in Massachusetts will likely lose contraceptive coverage because of the expanded exemptions, the estimate does not demonstrate that the Commonwealth will incur an injury to the state fisc. It is the Commonwealth’s burden to set forth specific facts sufficient to support standing and it has not satisfied that burden,” Gorton wrote.

Read the ruling in full here.

Attorney General Maura Healey had asserted that the exemptions provided by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) were an “attack on women’s health.”

“The Departments have acted to promote employers’ religious beliefs over the autonomy of women—and other employees—who do not share those beliefs,” the complaint read.

“Through the IFRs, the departments have empowered employers to impose their religious beliefs on their employees and their employees’ dependents. The expanded exemptions grant employers veto power over whether employees receive separate contraceptive coverage through the accommodation process. Employers have no legitimate interest injecting their religious beliefs into this independent method for providing contraceptive coverage,” it stated.

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Read Healey’s legal complaint here.

The Obama administration’s original mandate had been challenged largely by explicitly faith-based businesses and organizations, such as Tyndale Publishers, East Texas Baptist University, Geneva College, Hobby Lobby and the Roman Catholic Little Sisters of the Poor.

Following Monday’s ruling, Healey again asserted that contraceptive coverage is needed in the effort to maintain women’s equality in the workplace and to ensure their financial stability.

“While we are disappointed in this decision, we remain steadfast in our commitment to ensuring affordable and reliable reproductive health care for women,” she said in a statement. “Access to contraceptive coverage is a critical issue for the health, equality, and economic well-being of women and their families and we will continue to fight for these protections.”

However, some believe that the government has no business telling those who lead a company or nonprofit organization—especially with a faith-based purpose or mission—that they must put aside their religious convictions to cater to an employee’s sexual practices or to provide coverage for drugs they consider to be abortifacients.

“All Americans should have the freedom to peacefully live and work consistently with their deeply held convictions without fear of government punishment. The HHS rules follow the Constitution, federal law, and legal precedents to protect freedom of religion and conscience,” the organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) said in a statement.

The group had filed an amicus brief on behalf of the March for Life and Dordt College, both faith-based entities.

“Because the court determined that Massachusetts doesn’t have a sufficient legal basis for filing suit to challenge the rules, it refused to strike down rules protecting the freedom of pro-life organizations, like March for Life, and religious educational institutions, like Dordt College, to pursue their respective missions,” ADF said.

As previously reported, HHS rolled out the interim final rules in October, providing numerous reasons as to why the government believes that religious organizations should be granted relief from the requirement, including that religious nonprofits were wrongfully being treated differently than churches, even though they operate similarly to houses of worship and hire people of faith just like churches do.

“After considering the differential treatment of various religious nonprofit organizations under the previous accommodation, the departments conclude that it is appropriate to expand the exemption to other religious nonprofit organizations with sincerely held religious beliefs opposed to contraceptive coverage,” HHS wrote.

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 organization’s values.

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