Federal Appeals Court Blocks Rollback of Contraceptive Mandate

Gavel and Scale

Late last year, the Trump administration attempted to significantly expand the scope of the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate opt-out program. Under the administration’s new rules, virtually any employer could refuse to provide free birth control coverage to their employees by citing religious or moral objections. Just a few months after the new rules were announced, however, a Pennsylvania District Judge issued a nationwide injunction, temporarily blocking this significant rollback of the contraceptive mandate.

Last week, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the district court’s earlier decision, asserting that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) cannot expand the contraceptive mandate opt-out program.

“Nowhere in the enabling statute did Congress grant the agency the authority to exempt entities from providing insurance coverage,” wrote Judge Patty Schwartz who authored the court’s decision.

This decision constitutes the latest in a series of blows the court system has dealt to the Trump administration’s attempts to reshape the American healthcare system. Last week, a federal judge blocked another administration initiative which would force pharmaceutical companies to disclose drug prices in television ads. Again, the judge argued that “no matter how vexing the problem of spiraling drug costs may be, HHS cannot do more than what Congress has authorized.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers in New York and several other states are passing their own pieces of legislation that are designed to protect reproductive healthcare access, even in the event of a complete rollback of the Affordable Care Act.

Although the Trump administration is expected to appeal this latest ruling, the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate is safe for now.