Lawsuit Hits Back Against Trump’s Birth Control Interference

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Lawsuit Hits Back Against Trump’s Birth Control Interference

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Students at University of Notre Dame allege the White House's interim final rules on the birth control benefit violate their rights.

The fight against the Trump administration’s attack on contraception coverage took a crucial step Tuesday as attorneys from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of five plaintiffs who claim the White House’s birth control interference is unconstitutional.

The Trump administration on October 6 issued two interim final rules (IFRs) through the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies. NWLC attorneys claim the rules deny the plaintiffs contraceptive coverage required under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare. The plaintiffs allege that the IFRs create a broad religious exemption that allows universities and any non-governmental employer, including nonprofits and for-profit businesses, to avoid complying with the law.

The plaintiffs are students at the University of Notre Dame as well as an employee at an unnamed university in Illinois. The lawsuit alleges that the IFRs and the way they were released violates the Administrative Procedure Act, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and the plaintiffs’ right to due process, equal protection, and liberty.

“Blocking access to basic health care that 99 percent of women use at some point in their lives is unlawful, discriminatory and harmful,” NWLC President & CEO Fatima Goss Graves said in a statement. “Everyone deserves birth control coverage, no matter where they work, how they are insured, or where they go to school. Our lawsuit aims to shut down this latest assault by President Trump on women’s health, equality, and economic security.”

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This is not the first time students from the University of Notre Dame have sued to protect their access to birth control coverage under Obamacare. In 2014, after the university sued the Obama administration seeking an exemption from the rule, students intervened to challenge the university’s claim that its religious objections to birth control allowed the school to block access to a benefit they were entitled to under the law. 

The Department of Justice (DOJ) under Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently settled a wave of similar challenges made by religiously affiliated nonprofits including Notre Dame, concluding that the benefit unduly burdens religious rights. In those settlements the DOJ departed from the administration in defending the benefit and instead sided with the religious objectors, claiming there is no substantial benefit in the government requiring comprehensive health care coverage that includes contraception.