Federal judge rejects challenge to Trump’s new rules on birth control

Federal judge rejects challenge to Trump’s new rules on birth control

The US District Court for District of Massachusetts [official website] on Monday rejected a challenge to the Trump administration’s new regulations on birth control that permit employers or health insurers with religious or moral objections to opt out of providing women coverage for contraceptives in their health insurance plans.

The suit, seeking a permanent injunction, was filed [complaint, PDF] in October by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey [official website], which alleged that the new regulations are unconstitutional and represents “a direct attack on women’s health and the right to access affordable and reliable contraception.” The defendants in the case included the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Treasury [official websites], and the Treasury and Labor [official profiles] Secretaries.

The complaint specifically alleged that the regulations 1) violate § 553 of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) having not gone through the appropriate notice and comment process during their drafting 2) are not in accordance with law and exceed the defendants authority in violation of APA § 706; and 3) violate a) the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment [GPO backgrounder, PDF] and b) the equal protection guarantee of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment [GPO backgrounder, PDF] to the US Constitution.

Both parties filed a motion for summary judgment against each other. Stating that Massachusetts “failed to set forth specific facts establishing that it will likely suffer future injury from the defendants’ conduct,” Judge Nathaniel Gorton concluded that the state “lacked standing to prosecute this action.” The court found it noteworthy that the state enacted [JURIST report] a law in November requiring employer-sponsored health plans to cover birth control without imposing co-pays:

The unsupported assumption of the Commonwealth that it will be proportionally affected by the [regulations] is also tenuous. Most importantly, the Commonwealth does not address the “ACCESS Act,” which was enacted after the filing of this lawsuit. … the Act will almost certainly compel some employers that would otherwise avail themselves of the expanded exemptions to provide their employees no-cost contraceptive coverage. … The Commonwealth has not established that it is likely that any Massachusetts employers will avail themselves of the [regulations] expanded exemptions. The enactment of the ACCESS Act renders suspect the Commonwealth’s assumption that the [regulations] would affect women proportionally throughout the country. To the extent the ACCESS Act affects the “metes and bounds” of the Commonwealth’s injury, its impact is irrelevant. To the extent the Act affects the likelihood that the Commonwealth will be injured, however, plaintiff’s failure to address its impact highlights the risk of turning “a live, concrete dispute” into a “generalized grievance.”

Massachusetts was not the only state to file a challenge to the regulations. Several states including California, New York, Washington, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia [JURIST reports] filed similar suits, with California and Pennsylvania successfully obtaining [JURIST report] preliminary injunctions blocking the implementation of the new regulations within their respective jurisdictions.

The court in this case distinguished this suit from those filed by California and Pennsylvania stating that “There is no doubt that employers in Pennsylvania and California intend to use the [regulations’] expanded exemptions [permitting them to opt out of providing coverage for contraceptives], a prerequisite to a state incurring an injury to its state fisc or to the health and well-being of its residents.”