9th Circuit blocks birth control exemption for religious employers

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Birth control pills (AP file photo)

Religious organizations must still abide by the rules of Obamacare and provide birth control to their employees as part of their health insurance coverage, after a Tuesday ruling by California’s 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

The Trump administration is making an effort to exempt religious organizations from this tentacle of the Affordable Care Act, passed early in the Obama administration by a starkly divided Congress using unorthodox legislative procedures.

The two-to-one decision stated that the administration’s new rules allowing exceptions for groups such as the Little Sisters of the Poor fly in the face of the Affordable Care Act.

The Labor Department, Health and Human Services Department and Treasury Department adopted the birth control exception rules in 2017, and they were finalized in 2018 but are not yet in effect. The previous Obama administration rules required employers to provide birth control coverage without a co-payment.

“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,” wrote Judge J. Clifford Wallace for the majority.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and 13 other state attorneys general filed suit against the Trump administration in a challenge to the exemptions.

“Today will serve as a reminder to the Trump Administration that politicians and employers certainly have no business interfering with women’s reproductive healthcare,” Becerra said in a statement.

Senior Circuit Judge Andrew Kleinfeld, a George H.W. Bush appointee, offered a dissent, saying that the case is about states trying to save money rather than about women’s health care. He said the decision is redundant because a judge in Pennsylvania has already halted the administration’s birth control exceptions.

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