Women’s groups, states resist Trump’s rollback of ACA contraceptive coverage
A rally in Washington in defense of women's reproductive rights. | AP

Several state attorneys general and a raft of national women’s groups strongly protested the Republican Trump administration’s rollback of Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage, and Massachusetts has gone one step farther: It’s suing in federal court to reverse it.

And if that doesn’t succeed, Attorney General Maura Healey and state legislators have drafted their own statute to make pre-paid contraceptive coverage available to every woman in the Bay State. The legislature held hearings three days before Trump’s dictate.

Trump announced on October 6 his government would expand the so-called “conscience exemption” to providing contraceptive coverage to women under the ACA. The Obama administration established a limited exception, for churches and religiously-affiliated institutions that object to contraception.

It said they could refuse to provide it under mandated ACA health insurance coverage as long as they gave women an alternative way to purchase it. Trump’s dictate would extend the exception to tens of thousands more private employers.

The denunciation from Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, typified the negative reaction to Trump’s move. Trump’s “interim final rules” on denial of contraceptive coverage “are a discriminatory, damaging attack on women’s health and economic security,” she said.

“They fundamentally undermine the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) guarantee of copay-free birth control coverage, which has supported more than 60 million women, by allowing employers to deny women this critical benefit. They would take us back in time to when women had to choose between paying for birth control and paying off their student loans.

“This is just the latest in the Trump administration’s ongoing assault on women’s health, civil rights and equal justice,” Ness added. As women did in mobilizing against this year’s GOP attempts to repeal the ACA, “We will make sure the Trump administration hears women and families loud and clear when we say these rules are unacceptable and must be withdrawn,” Ness promised.

NPWF Vice President Sarah Lipton Lubet says the group is encouraging women to file written formal protests of Trump’s rollback with the appropriate federal agencies. Ness also said her women’s group would continue to resist “other attempts to reverse our nation’s progress toward equity and economic security for all.”

Healey already is resisting. She marched into court to sue Trump the day he dropped his bomb, and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said he may well join her. The National Women’s Law Center said it would sue Trump over the rule, too.

Healey’s suit calls Trump’s rule unconstitutional because it discriminates against women, by allowing employers to claim religious beliefs as their justification for denying woman workers contraceptive coverage, while leaving coverage for men unchanged.

The suit said Trump plans to yank the coverage without the legally required notice and public comment periods. It forecast 55 million-62 million women nationwide – including 1.4 million in Massachusetts – would lose the prepaid coverage they now get through the ACA. And that would also hurt the state her suit said, as many of the Massachusetts women would  turn to Medicaid – which is partially state-paid – for coverage.

“The new rule is unconstitutional by allowing the federal government to endorse certain religious beliefs over a woman’s right to make choices about her own health care,” Healey’s release said.

Saying her group would also sue Trump over his “outrageous” rules, National Women’s Law Center President Fatima Goss Graves said the Republican president’s administration “shows callous disregard for women’s rights, health, and autonomy.

“By taking away women’s access to no-cost birth control coverage, the rules give employers a license to discriminate against women. This will leave countless women without the critical birth control coverage they need to protect their health and economic security. We will take immediate legal steps to block these unfair and discriminatory rules.”

“Today, the fundamental human rights of women are under attack by men in Washington who are determined to allow women’s healthcare decisions to be dictated by their bosses,” New York Attorney General Schneiderman added.

“Comprehensive, cost-free access to birth control is critical to ensuring all women have a right to choose whether or when to have a child. The rules announced today would gut the contraceptive mandate, and set back progress for tens of thousands of women… My office is reviewing the new federal rules and we are prepared to take action to protect the rights and health of New Yorkers.”

The Democratic-run New York State Assembly passed contraceptive coverage legislation in January, saying the Empire State would pick up the tab. In light of Trump’s move, Schneiderman urged the evenly split State Senate to agree.

Healey pushed the same cause before Massachusetts lawmakers on October 3.

“At the federal level, the Affordable Care Act guarantees women access to contraceptives without a co-pay. We’ve seen the impact it’s had,” she testified.

“But even if the ACA survives, the administration could change the implementing regulations at any time to effectively gut the contraceptive coverage requirement. We’ve already seen a draft of a far-reaching proposed rule that would essentially allow employers to opt out of providing this coverage for their employees,” Healey said.



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.