Pennsylvania Claims Trump Overstepped on Birth Control Exemption

This still from video shows Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, mother provincial for the Little Sisters of the Poor, outside a courthouse in Philadelphia on Dec. 14, 2017. Pennsylvania is leading a challenge there against expanded exemptions to the contraception mandate, a provision of the federal health care law that requires employers to cover contraceptive care for workers.

PHILADELPHIA (CN) – Attorneys for Pennsylvania told a federal judge Thursday that if she fails to overturn a Trump administration rule easing birth control coverage mandates in the federal health care law, more than 2.5 million women in the Commonwealth will pay more for birth control and other forms of contraception.

The exemption announced by the Department of Health and Human Services in October allows certain employers to opt-out of paying for contraception on religious or moral grounds.

In filing Pennsylvania’s challenge to the exemption, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro said President Donald Trump had overstepped his legal authority and was trying to prevent women from making their own healthcare choices.

Pennsylvania is seeking both declaratory and injunctive relief. Thursday’s hearing focused on its request for a preliminary injunction.

On Thursday, Dr. Cynthia Chuang of Penn State, a witness for the Commonwealth, told U.S. District Judge Wendy Bettlestone that if the administration policy is allowed to stand, women in Pennsylvania will suffer “serious medical harm” including but not limited to unintended pregnancies.

“If women forgo contraception because of cost, there will be more abortions,” Chuang said.

Arguing on behalf of the administration, Justice Department attorney Ethan Davis pointed out that there is a long history of exemptions to federal laws, and told Bettlestone it would “extraordinary” for her to block this one.

He also asked the judge to consider the implications of removing the exemptions to employers and institutions.

Among the parties seeking to intervene in the case before Bettlestone are the Little Sisters of the Poor, who say the mandate runs counter to their sincerely held religious beliefs and argue that if it stands, they’ll be forced to pay for contraception they believe to be sinful.

Beetlestone rejected their inclusion in the case, holding that because their interests align with those of the federal government, their participation would be redundant.

Attorney Michael Fischer, arguing for the Commonwealth, told Beetlestone Pennsylvania believes it has standing in the case because it will be forced to pay for contraception if those who qualify for the exemption do not.

“We feel the rules violate the [Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act] because they are arbitrary and capricious, and will cause substantial injury to the Commonwealth,” Fischer said.

Beetlestone is expected to hand down a ruling on Pennsylvania’s request for a preliminary injunction before the end of the year.

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