Lawyers seek end to birth-control mandate battle: ‘Stop fighting nuns’
Lawyers for Catholic nuns who challenged the Obama-era “contraception mandate” cheered the Trump administration’s expanded carve-out Thursday, saying they hoped the final rules would end “a long and unnecessary culture war fight.”
“This should be the end of the story. I suspect it won’t be the end of the story,” said Mark Rienzi, president of Becket, a nonprofit law firm representing the Little Sisters of the Poor, a charity that became the face of lawsuits against President Obama’s contraception mandate.
Mr. Rienzi feared more litigation is ahead, as California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and other liberals challenge Mr. Trump’s approach.
The latest rules, issued late Wednesday, allow closely held businesses and faith-based charities and universities employers to refuse to insure forms of birth control they find objectionable by claiming “sincerely held religious beliefs” or a moral objection.
Objectors would not be required to fill out on opt-form a requirement that Mr. Obama imposed, leading to dragged-out litigation that reached a deadlocked Supreme Court.
Today the court battles are coming from the other side, with civil-liberties groups saying Mr. Trump has made it too easy for employers to deny coverage. They say his rules will put contraceptive drugs and services out of reach for too many women.
The Health and Human Services Department disagrees, saying it expects no more than 200 employers to come forward a claim the latest version of the exemption, which only requires firms to notify their workers if their health policy suddenly drops contraceptive coverage.
Federal judges enjoined the initial rules, saying they were hastily implemented. Mr. Rienzi expects both sides to brief a pair of appellate courts on their reaction to the final policy issued by HHS.
Brigitte Amiri, at the American Civil Liberties Union, said she’s optimistic the courts will block the rules again.
Beyond procedural issues, the plaintiffs allege Mr. Trump is violating the establishment clause of the First Amendment by citing religious beliefs to deny certain health benefits and flouting the Fifth Amendment right to equal protection under the law by targeting women.
Ms. Amiri also said HHS’ estimate of affected employers “seems low” and that, by their rules’ own admission, could still affect 126,400 women of childbearing age.
“We are disappointed that the Trump administration followed through on its threat to allow religious and moral beliefs to be used by employers to take away birth control coverage from their employees,” she said.
Mr. Rienzi urged the other side to drop the fight, noting HHS is working on a parallel regulation that would expand definitions under Title X, which provides services to low-income families, to ensure that women deprived of contraceptive coverage by their devout employers could still get the drugs and services.
Many of the women who might be affected by Mr. Trump’s rules agree with their employers’ faith-based mission, he said, so there is no real conflict.
“Stop fighting nuns and go do things that are actually important,” he said.