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Federal appeals court strikes down rule granting religious and moral exemptions to birth control
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Federal appeals court strikes down rule granting religious and moral exemptions to birth control

A federal appeals court on Friday upheld an injunction against regulations allowing employers with religious or moral objections to deny birth control coverage to employees. The recent ruling affirms the injunction originally issued in January, which found the Department of Health & Human Service (HHS) exceeded its authority.

The two final rules in contention are Exemptions for Religious Beliefs and Exemptions for Moral Convictions. Both rules provide exemptions to employers of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s Women’s Health Amendment, which stipulated that that women’s health insurance include coverage for preventive health care.

The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) states that agencies, such as HHS, that promulgate binding regulations, must engage in notice-and-comment rulemaking. The only time an agency may dispense of this procedure is when it has “good cause” and doing so would be “impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest.”

HHS argued that under Supreme Court precedent, a religious accommodation must be extended to for-profit corporations when there are sincere religious objections so that their religious beliefs were not substantially burdened. However, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit rejected this “burden” argument and instead identified the undue burden to female employees who will lose coverage for contraceptive care if the rules were enacted.

The three-judge panel further concluded that the Democratic States have a reasonable chance of showing that the rules violate the APA. Both final rules originated as proposed rules where HHS failed to conduct proper notice-and-commenting. The judges detail that HHS did not have “good cause” to ignore this APA requirement and doing so later for the final rule does not absolve them of this initial requirement.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Joshua Shapiro publicly stated his support of the ruling. The Trump administration is expected to endorse further appeals to the Supreme Court.