The Trump administration lacked the authority to grant religious employers like Little Sisters of the Poor exemptions from the Obamacare abortion/contraception mandate, an appeals court ruled Tuesday.
At issue is a set of rules handed down by the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services in 2017. The rules exempt employers with religious and moral objections from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that health plans cover contraceptives, including the morning-after pill. Pro-lifers say the latter can cause an early abortion by preventing implantation.
A panel for the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday affirmed a lower district court ruling against the Trump rules.
“The district court did not err in concluding that the agencies likely lacked the authority to issue the final rules and that the rules likely are arbitrary and capricious,” the Ninth Circuit ruled in a 2-1 decision. “The district court did not abuse its discretion in so concluding.
HHS asserted that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law, gave it the authority to issue the rules, but the Ninth Circuit said the rules’ impact “far exceeds what RFRA in fact authorizes.”
The U.S. Third Court of Appeals issued a similar ruling this summer, upholding a 2017 district court decision against the Trump administration.
The Little Sisters of the Poor, which cares for the elderly, has been in a legal battle for six years, seeking an exemption. The organization won at the Supreme Court in 2016, but then was dragged to court again when the Trump administration issued its new rules. A California-led coalition is seeking to overturn the Trump rules.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is representing the nuns. Becket is asking the Supreme Court to take up the case.
“This is a nonsensical political battle that has dragged on six years too long,” said Mark Rienzi, president of Becket. “These states have not been able to identify a single person who would lose contraceptive coverage under the new HHS rule, but they won’t rest until Catholic nuns are forced to pay for contraceptives. It is time for the Supreme Court to finally put this issue to rest.”
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.