NWLC to Trump Administration in Lawsuit: Using Religious and Moral Beliefs as an Excuse to Deny Women Birth Control Coverage Isn’t Just Heartless, It’s Illegal

Today, The National Women’s Law Center, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), and the law firm Dentons filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration over its rules that allow virtually any employer or university to deny their employees, students, and their dependents birth control coverage based on religious or moral objections.

Women are guaranteed insurance coverage of birth control with no out-of-pocket costs by the federal health care law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Yet the Trump Administration’s rules allow businesses and schools to use their religious or moral beliefs as an excuse to take that legally guaranteed right away from millions of women.  The rules went into effect immediately on October 6, 2017 and they don’t require employers or universities to give anyone – the government, employees, or students – any special notice if they decide to drop birth control coverage.

Women Will Be Harmed By These Rules, We Have the Proof

When the rules were released, an official from the Department of Health and Human Services baselessly claimed that “99 percent” of women who are currently covered will not be affected by the rules’ dramatic changes to the ACA’s birth control benefit.

But the numerous women and state attorneys general who have come forward to sue the Trump Administration – including the five women in our lawsuit – are proof that women will most definitely be harmed by this action.

Birth control is vital for the health, economic security, and equality of women:

  • It decreases health risks for women and children – including health risks associated from unintended pregnancies.
  • It helps millions of women manage health conditions.
  • It has been shown to increase women’s educational and professional opportunities, and their lifetime earnings.

In sum, birth control has been proven to advance women’s equality and participation in the social and economic life of this country.  But birth control can be costly, and one study has shown that co-pays as low as $6 deterred women from obtaining the birth control care that they needed and some women chose to forgo birth control because of cost.  That is why Congress acted to pass the ACA and require coverage of women’s preventive services – including birth control.  The Trump Administration’s rules undermine all of this progress.

All five of our plaintiffs are women who attend schools, work for employers, and/or are provided health insurance through an insurance company that objects to providing birth control coverage for religious or moral reasons.  And these rules allow their schools, employers, and insurance companies to deny them coverage for critical health care services (while offering comprehensive benefits to men).  Our plaintiffs and the plaintiffs in the other lawsuits are just a fraction of the women who will be affected by the rules.

And that is exactly why plaintiff Alicia Baker is suing: “Putting barriers in the way of accessing birth control puts ordinary women’s lives on the line, like mine, and I am challenging these rules on behalf of us all.”

The Rules are Illegal in Substance and Procedure

 There is so much wrong with the Trump Administration’s rules and the process that the Administration went through to develop them (or more accurately, the lack of appropriate process) – it is no surprise that their release was met with widespread criticism and anger, not to mention a flurry of lawsuits.

Here is just a quick summary of the reasons why the Trump Administration’s rules don’t stand up under legal scrutiny:

  1. The Trump Administration issued the rules without taking input from the public as required by law;
  2. The rules direct federal agencies to act in a way that is illegal and unconstitutional under the ACA, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and several Constitutional provisions;
  3. The rules promote and favor one subset of religious views over all others in violation of the First Amendment Establishment Clause and the equal protection guarantees of the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution;
  4. The rules target women for adverse treatment, discriminating against them in violation of the equal protection guarantees of the Due Process Clause and the ACA’s nondiscrimination provision; and
  5. The rules undermine women’s fundamental right to liberty in violation of the Due Process Clause.

We sued the Trump Administration because these rules give employers and universities a license to discriminate against female employees and students, plain and simple.  They impose the Administration’s favored religious and moral views on others, unfairly discriminating against people of different creeds and those who hold different religious and moral beliefs, like our plaintiff Alicia Baker: “As a graduate of seminary school, member and employee of a church, taking birth control in no way violates my religious beliefs. It’s a personal decision I make to plan my family.”

The government, employers, universities, and insurance companies should not and cannot be in the business of enshrining one set of religious beliefs, especially at the expense of women’s health, economic security, and equality.  And we won’t stand for it.