Americans United is following through on a promise we made when the Trump administration announced an attack on women’s health care last month: We’ve filed a federal lawsuit challenging the administration’s new regulations that allow employers and universities to use religion as an excuse to deny their staff and students health insurance coverage for birth control.
“Access to contraception is crucial to me on many levels – intimately, for my career and for my personal health,” said Mary Shiraef, a student at the University of Notre Dame and a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “It means I can decide if and when I have children. It also means I can entirely focus on the quality of my relationship, without fear of an unplanned pregnancy. It means I get to focus on my task at hand – working toward a Ph.D. – in equitable measure to my male colleagues. It has also improved my overall health. My IUD has reduced the symptoms of my irritable bowel syndrome, which only doubles the benefits of contraceptives for me.”
The National Women’s Law Center and the law firm Dentons joined AU in filing Shiraef v. Hargan yesterday on behalf of five women in the Midwest who are likely to lose access to critical health care because of Trump’s new regulations. These women include: three University of Notre Dame students, including Shiraef; Alicia Baker of Indiana, whose insurance provider opposes the Affordable Care Act (ACA) contraceptive-coverage provision even though her employer – a church – does not; and an employee of an Illinois university.
“Women deserve better than to have their most intimate and personal medical decisions subjected to a boss’s religious veto,” said Richard B. Katskee, Americans United’s legal director. “President Trump’s zeal to curtail access to birth control is mean-spirited and shortsighted – and his actions are unconstitutional. That’s why we’re taking him to court.”
Religious freedom is about fairness. We don’t treat people differently because their beliefs are different from ours. It isn’t fair to deny women access to vital health care – a benefit guaranteed by law. Stripping insurance coverage for birth control is discrimination, plain and simple.
Decisions about women’s health care should be left to women – not their employers or universities.
Our lawsuit explains that the Trump administration’s new rules violate women’s rights in a number of ways. Offering employers and universities a religious exemption from the ACA’s contraceptive-coverage provision is unconstitutional because it preferences certain religious beliefs over others and excessively entangles the government and religion.
The new rules discriminate against women on the basis of sex and religion. And since the rules went into effect immediately when they were issued on Oct. 6 without any opportunity for public review, the departments that issued them violated legally required procedures for adopting new rules. (By comparison, the existing ACA regulations took six years to implement, involved six rounds of public-comment periods and prompted 650,000 comments from the public.)
The ACA recognizes that affordable, effective preventive health services advance women’s health and equality. That’s why most health insurance plans were required to cover all FDA-approved birth control options with no out-of-pocket costs to women. But the new rules effectively allow anyone to deny this crucial coverage by citing a religious objection.
“Contraception is critical to women’s health and economic and social equality. It
is also critical to the health of women’s families,” we note in the lawsuit. “Because contraception enables women to decide if and when to have children and is also used to treat or manage a wide array of often severe medical conditions, access to contraception allows women to make decisions that affect a broad spectrum of issues: their health, their education and livelihoods, and the health of their families. By allowing employers and universities to deny women access to contraceptive coverage, the Rules threaten women’s health and strip women of their equal participation in society and the economy.”
We’ll continue to fight religious-based discrimination. You can learn more about our lawsuit at our Protect Thy Neighbor campaign. And you can support our work by taking our pledge to speak out about religious freedom, fairness and equality.