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« The future of Roe, on the 46th anniversary | Main | Tues deadline for comments on Trump abortion coverage rule! »

Whew! Birth control coverage safe for now

Nationwide injunction halts harmful Trump birth control rule

This week, federal judges in California and Pennsylvania issued injunctions halting implementation of the Trump administration’s attacks on birth control coverage under the ACA. Under the Trump rules first proposed in October 2017, employers would be able to deny their employees birth control coverage because of the employer’sreligious or moral objections.

While the injunction in California affects only the 13 states and DC that are parties to that case, the injunction in Pennsylvania blocks the Trump rules nationwide on the same day that they were set to take effect. Like Hobby Lobby and Zubik, the two previous court battles to determine whether religiously-affiliated employers must provide coverage, the current fight is likely to end up at the Supreme Court sometime next year.

As we wrote in 2017, the Trump rules throw out the existing Obama-era accommodation for religious employers. While not ideal, the Obama accommodation is a compromise that gives women access to seamless birth control coverage at no cost, while also allowing employers with religious objections to avoid paying for it themselves. Instead of an accommodation that protects employers’ religious views and women’s access to vital health care, the Trump rules would simply allow almost any employer to strip birth control coverage from their employees for either moral or religious objections to contraception. Universities can also deny birth control coverage in student health plans for religious or moral reasons. In addition, insurance companies can deny coverage for religious or moral reasons as long as the employer agrees.

Right now, 62.4 million women have insurance coverage for their birth control free from out-of-pocket costs. While the administration has argued that few women would be affected by the new rules, there are reasons to believe that the real impact could be much, much higher. In an amicus brief to the Pennsylvania case co-signed by Raising Women’s Voices last year, the amici noted that under the “moral” exemption, “any university or non-publicly-traded private entity may claim an exemption for virtually any reason given the vast nature of what could be interpreted as a ‘moral’ objection.”

In issuing her nationwide injunction, federal Judge Wendy Beetlestone wrote that “the negative effects of even a short period of decreased access to no-cost contraceptive services are irreversible” and that the harm caused by the Trump rules “is not merely speculative; it is actual and imminent. … [T]here is no need to wait for the axe to fall before an injunction is appropriate, particularly where Defendants have estimated that it is about to fall on thousands of women—and, as a corollary, on the States.”

What makes the administration’s position even more galling is that it argues the harm will be mitigated as more women use Title X family planning programs to replace their missing contraceptive coverage. Of course, we are waiting any day now for the administration to issue final regulations gutting the Title X program and sharply limiting the ability of women to access real contraceptive choices at real family planning clinics. The rule would change the definition of “family planning” to include non-medical approaches such as abstinence-only or “fertility awareness” methods that have high failure rates.
If the administration is ultimately successful in all of its schemes, women denied employer-sponsored contraceptive coverage on religious or moral grounds may find that the only “Title X provider” in their community is a religiously affiliated fake clinic offering abstinence-only counseling in lieu of birth control.

Women are marching again on Saturday!

For the third straight year, women will be marching in the streets in cities across the nation on Saturday. The first women’s march in January of 2017 was a mass expression of women’s dismay over the election of Donald Trump, who was being inaugurated that month. Last year’s march targeted many of the policies the Trump administration and Republican Congressional leaders had been pushing – including repeal of the Affordable Care Act.  Raising Women’s Voices-NY staff and interns are shown above, participating in last year’s march in New York City.
This year’s march comes just after a major victory for women – the election of dozens of women to Congress and the return of Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House of Representatives, with Democrats now in control of the House.  That’s means some of the more egregious things the previous Congress tried will likely be off the table for now.
But there is still much to protest this year!  On the top of our list is the ongoing shutdown of the federal government over Trump’s demand for funding of his proposed wall along the Mexican border.  Then there are the numerous proposed and final regulations the Trump administration has been issuing, including the birth control rule we described above and other rules like these:

  • The Title X “gag rule,” which tries to limit federal funding for health clinics that provide abortion to low-income women;
  •   proposed rule that would impose burdensome requirements on coverage of abortion services in health plans being offered through Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplaces in states that permit or require abortion coverage;
  • Proposed changes to the public charge rule, which has resulted in many immigrant families dropping out of public assistance programs
  • Expansion of short term “junk” plans, which are not required to cover maternity care and other health services women need

New Jersey Citizen Action, our RWV regional coordinator in that state, will join dozens of other organizations in Trenton (the state capitol) for the Women’s March on New Jersey. The mission of that march is “to bring together kindred spirits of women, grounded in diversity, and celebrating the unique beauty of our strengths and differences. Our aim is to be a movement of authentic inclusivity – where no woman is left behind. Not because of her religion, education or lack thereof; not for the color of her skin, her economic status, or because of the person she loves. We will strive to successfully accomplish what has not been accomplished before – an unyielding solidarity borne out of love, tolerance, understanding, support and respect.”
WV Free, the RWV regional coordinator in West Virginia, will be joining the West Virginia Women’s March, ACLU-WV and Planned Parenthood South Atlantic on the steps of the West Virginia State Capitol in Charleston for a rally at which WV Free’s Anduwyn  Williams and Katie Wolfe will be speaking. The rally will be followed by a march and ending with a happy hour (great idea!).
There is also much to celebrate this year.  Joan Lamunyon Sanford, Director of the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), which is the RWV regional coordinator for that state, will be speaking at Saturday’s march in Albuquerque.  She and other women’s health advocates in New Mexico have been celebrating the election of a new progressive governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, and the election of a Native American woman from New Mexico, Deb Haaland, to Congress.
Some RWV regional coordinators are doing alternative actions this weekend. For example,Northwest Health Law Advocates (NoHLA) Seattle is participating in a Womxn's Day of Action on Sunday and will be co-presenting with the Somali Health Board on immigrant access to health care in Washington state. NoHLA will be discussing federal, state, and local policies that impact immigrant access to care and Somali Health Board will provide client stories to highlight how those policies impact community members directly.

In New York, where unresolved disputes have resulted in there being two separate Women’s March events on Saturday, RWV-NY will be conducting leafleting seeking women’s stories about problems with confusing and unfair medical bills. RWV-NY is part of a coalition advocating for state action requiring simpler medical bills and holding consumers harmless when they when go to a health provider they had been assured was in their health plan network, but later receive an out-of-network bill.

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