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A "substantial number" of women would lose birth control According to the new rules of the Trump administration, more employers have the opportunity to withdraw, said a US judge at a hearing on Friday.
Judge Haywood Gilliam appeared inclined to grant a request from California and other states to block the rules during the trial. He said he would rule before Monday when the rules should come into effect.
The amendments would allow more employers, including publicly traded companies, to not provide women with free contraceptive coverage on religious grounds. Some private employers may also oppose for moral reasons.
Gilliam said the new rules would constitute a "radical policy change" for women who lose their coverage.
The judge had previously blocked a draft regulation, which was upheld in December by a court of appeal.
The case is back in front of him after the government finalized the measures in November, prompting California and other states to initiate new legal proceedings. Twelve other states, including New York and North Carolina, as well as Washington, DC, joined California in this lawsuit.
President Barack Obama's health care law stipulates that birth control services must be covered at no extra cost. Obama officials have included exemptions for religious organizations and some businesses. The Trump administration has expanded these exemptions and added "moral convictions" as the basis for withdrawing birth control services.
Karli Eisenberg, a California lawyer, told Gilliam Friday that the loss of free contraceptive coverage by employers would force women to turn to government birth control programs and, if they are not eligible, increase the risk unwanted pregnancy.
"It is indisputable that these rules will create obstacles," she said.
The rules violate the Affordable Care Act, including a provision prohibiting discrimination, she said.
Justin Sandberg, a lawyer with the US Department of Justice, said the health care law already provided for contraceptive coverage exemptions that left millions of women without benefits. He stated that the requirement of birth control was a "substantial burden" for employers with religious objections.
The rules "protect a narrow class of sincere religious and moral objectors against the obligation to facilitate practices contrary to their beliefs," the US Department of Justice said in court documents.
States argue that millions of women could lose free birth control services under the new rules. They want Gilliam to issue a preliminary injunction blocking the rules for the entire nation.
Gilliam asked if an injunction at the national level was appropriate. He noted that a Massachusetts federal judge had ruled against a similar challenge of birth control rules, but that an injunction at the national level would still block them in that state.