SAN FRANCISCO — California faces potentially “dire” public health and financial consequences from new rules by the Trump administration allowing more employers to opt out of providing women with no-cost birth control, a federal judge said Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam in Oakland, California, became the second federal judge in the country to block the changes to President Barack Obama’s health care law, saying the Trump administration failed to provide the required notice and public comment period before implementing them.
A federal judge in Philadelphia last week cited similar reasons in her nationwide injunction against the rules. That decision came in a lawsuit brought by the state of Pennsylvania.
Gilliam’s ruling came in a separate lawsuit brought by the state of California, which was joined by Delaware, Maryland, New York and Virginia. Gilliam’s preliminary injunction will hold while their lawsuit against the rules moves forward.
For a substantial number of women, the new rules “transform contraceptive coverage from a legal entitlement to an essentially gratuitous benefit wholly subject to their employer’s discretion,” Gilliam, an Obama appointee, wrote.
U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam said the DOJ was “evaluating next steps.”
The DOJ said in court documents that the rules were about protecting a small group of “sincere religious and moral objectors” from having to violate their beliefs.
“This administration is committed to defending the religious liberty of all Americans and we look forward to doing so in court,” Ehrsam said in her statement.
President Barack Obama’s health care law required most companies to cover birth control at no additional cost, though it included exemptions for religious organizations. The new policy would allow more categories of employers, including publicly traded companies, to opt out of providing free contraception to women by claiming religious objections. It would allow any company that is not publicly traded to deny coverage on moral grounds.
California argued that the change could result in millions of women in the state losing free birth control services, leading to unintended pregnancies that would tax the state’s health care and other social programs.
A lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice, Ethan Davis, told Gilliam during a Dec. 12 hearing that it was not clear that any women would lose no-cost contraception coverage.
Washington state and Massachusetts have also sued the Trump administration over the rules.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued the new policy in October. It marked another step in the Trump administration’s rollback of Obama’s health care law.