A pair of federal judges stepped in at the last moment to pause Trump administration rules that would restrict the ability of some women to get birth control at no charge because their employers object on religious or moral grounds.

A Pennsylvania district court judge issued a nationwide injunction Monday afternoon, just as the new policy was due to take effect. That ruling came less than 24 hours after a California district court judge issued a more limited stay in 13 Democratic states and the District of Columbia while challenges are being argued.

The rulings in rapid succession, both by judges appointed by President Obama, are the latest legal twists in a dispute over an expansion of health benefits for women under the Affordable Care Act that has wound through the courts for years.

The ACA, the sprawling 2010 health-care law pushed through by a Democratic Congress, says that people should be insured for preventive services without paying any out-of-pocket fees – and that women’s health services must be included. Under the law, all forms of FDA-approved contraception have been covered since 2012.

The dispute centers on the issue of “religious liberty” – specifically, the extent to which the government should carve out exceptions for churches, religious group and even non-religious employers that object to birth control coverage based on their beliefs. The Obama administration had narrow exceptions and a system of “accommodations” – a work-around to religious objections – in which a third-party insurer would cover birth control even if the employer did not.

But President Trump widened the circumstances under which employers could claim exemptions in an effort to accommodate social conservatives.

The Trump administration rules allow objections to covering birth control on moral grounds, as well as religious ones. They broaden the range of employers able to claim such objections to include essentially all non-governmental workplaces. And they give the employer the choice of whether to permit a workaround accommodation.


Comments are not available on this story.