The Trump administration won an initial victory for religious freedom in court this week when a federal judge allowed its religious exemptions to the Obamacare abortion mandate to stand.
Massachusetts and several other states challenged the Trump administration last year after it provided relief from the Obamacare birth control mandate by granting wider exceptions to religious groups.The mandate forces employers to provide birth control, including forms that may cause abortions, in their employee health plans.
This week, U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton ruled against the Massachusetts lawsuit, WND reports.
“This court finds that plaintiff has failed to set forth specific facts demonstrating that it is likely to incur an injury caused by defendants’ conduct,” Gorton wrote. “Accordingly, the court declines, at this time, to address the merits of the Commonwealth’s statutory or constitutional claims.”
Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Gregory S. Baylor, who is involved with the case, defended the new religious exemptions.
All Americans “should have the freedom to peacefully live and work consistently with their deeply held convictions without fear of government punishment,” he said.
“The HHS rules follow the Constitution, federal law, and legal precedents to protect freedom of religion and conscience,” he said. “Because the court determined that Massachusetts doesn’t have a sufficient legal basis for filing suit to challenge the rules, it refused to strike down rules protecting the freedom of pro-life organizations, like March for Life, and religious educational institutions, like Dordt College, to pursue their respective missions.”
Pro-abortion attorneys general in several states filed lawsuits against the exemptions last year, arguing that they are too broad. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro claimed the rules violate the First and Fifth Amendments because they put employers’ religious rights over women’s and deny women equal protection under the law, Patch reports.
But even Shapiro admitted that the HHS mandate under pro-abortion President Barack Obama was “extremely narrow.” It was so narrow that even a group of nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, had to fight the whole way to the U.S. Supreme Court for relief.
Other states that are suing Trump include California and Washington, according to the AP.
In December, another federal judge blocked the Trump administration from enforcing the new religious exceptions in response to the Pennsylvania lawsuit.
The Susan B. Anthony List lamented the ruling, pointing to oppressive Obama-era rules.
“Why should Catholic nuns who care for the elderly poor be forced by the government to provide abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans?” said SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser at the time. “Moreover, moral objectors like my own pro-life organization, SBA List, should not have to pay for life-ending drugs that are antithetical to our mission. There is absolutely no ‘compelling state interest’ in forcing pro-life employers to violate their consciences to provide abortion-inducing drugs.”
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The Trump administration says the new rules are motivated by “our desire to bring to a close the more than five years of litigation” over the pro-abortion mandate. These include cases by the Little Sister of the Poor, Hobby Lobby and countless other religious organizations and businesses.
The new rules argue that the Affordable Care Act does not mandate coverage of birth control, which could mean hundreds of thousands of women would no longer have access to the contraceptive without a copay.
Pro-life advocates applauded the new rules when they were first proposed in May.
“At long last, the United States government has acknowledged that people can get contraceptives without forcing nuns to provide them,” Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty told USA Today at the time. “That is sensible, fair, and in keeping with the president’s promise to the Little Sisters and other religious groups serving the poor.”
President Trump also signed an executive order to help lower health insurance costs and expand choices for consumers who are stuck with few options under Obamacare. With rising costs for most Americans under the failed Obamacare plan, the executive order could provide some fiscal relief for them.
Trump said the order is “starting that process” to repeal Obamacare. It will be the “first steps to providing millions of Americans with Obamacare relief,” Trump said.