Massachusetts AG Healey Taking Trump to Court Over Contraception Coverage Rollback

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UPDATE — 7:15 p.m. — Full copy of Healey lawsuit attached at bottom of page

BOSTON — Labeling it as an “all-out attack on women’s health care,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey on Friday announced her office has yet again taken President Donald Trump to federal court, this time over his administration’s decision to allow employers who oppose contraception on moral or religious grounds to withhold from providing such services to employees for free.

“We’re suing today to stop this rule and to protect access to needed birth control and healthcare for millions of women,” Healey told reporters at an afternoon press conference. “A woman should have a right to choose, not her employer.”

“Once again we find ourselves as a state and an attorney general’s office suing the Trump administration for yet another unconstitutional campaign promise — he did this on the backs of women in this country.”

Healey’s decision to sue Trump continues a pattern for the state’s top law enforcement officer. Since Trump assumed office in January, Healey has taken his administration to court multiple times, most recently over Trump’s proposal to place the future of his White House predecessor’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an executive order that granted amnesty to more than 800,000 illegal aliens, in the hands of Congress.

Healey claimed on Friday that Trump’s latest order, carried out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “is unconstitutional for many reasons.” She argued that the order violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause “because it allows employers’ religious beliefs to override an employee’s beliefs.”

“Put in another way, it allows an employer to impose its religious beliefs on an employee,” she added.

Healey also claimed the order violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause “because it discriminates against women,” noting that “again, this is a rule that specifically targets in effect women and their right to access healthcare.”

Lastly, Healey argued that the decision violates the Administrative Procedures Act, a federal statute enacted in 1946 that governs the implementation of federal regulations.

“There’s a clear set of rules out there that tells administrations how they are to go about rulemaking,” she said. “Once again, the Trump administration has ignored that and has taken away women’s rights without any opportunity for public comment, for public hearing, and for public review — they did this once again behind closed doors.”

According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which made the formal announcement Friday morning, under the existing regulations enacted under former President Barack Obama, “employers, unless they qualify for an exemption, must offer health insurance that covers all FDA-approved contraception, which includes medications and devices that may act as abortifacients as well sterilization procedures.”

“Under the first of two companion rules released today, entities that have sincerely held religious beliefs against providing such services would no longer be required to do so,” the agency noted. “The second rule applies the same protections to organizations and small businesses that have objections on the basis of moral conviction which is not based in any particular religious belief.”

Healey later blasted in particular the “moral conviction” argument.

“We don’t even know what that means,” she said. “This is something we haven’t seen before.”

Healey also claimed that the new order could affect more than 1.4 million women in Massachusetts alone. Yet according to the Department of Health and Human Services, “the regulation leaves in place preventive services coverage guidelines where no religious or moral objection exists — meaning that out of millions of employers in the U.S., these exemptions may impact only about 200 entities, the number that filed lawsuits based on religious or moral objections.”

“These rules will not affect over 99.9 percent of the 165 million women in the United States.”

Healey apparently disagrees with the the federal agency’s assessment.

“I want to be clear with everyone — the actions represented today by the Trump administration reflect an attack and an assault on women in this country,” she said. “An attack and an assault on women who have already been under siege by this administration on a number of fronts, and this one fundamentally strikes at access to needed healthcare.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has already, however, voiced its full support of the new order, describing it in a press release as a “return to common sense.”

“These regulations are good news for the Little Sisters of the Poor and others who are challenging the [original] DHHS mandate in court,” read the statement, announced jointly by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the bishops conference, and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the bishops conference’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. “We urge the government to take the next logical step and promptly resolve the litigation that the Supreme Court has urged the parties to settle.”

Meanwhile, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders addressed the issue with reporters during Friday’s briefing. She specifically answered questions regarding the American Civil Liberties Union’s announcement that they too will take Trump to court over the order. White House correspondents later read to Sanders talking points released by the ACLU, which mimicked Healey’s arguments, including the assertion that employees will now be forced to adhere to their employer’s religious beliefs.

“I don’t think it’s been a secret that I would probably never use the ACLU to get any of my talking points,” Sanders said in response. “The President believes that the freedom to practice one’s faith is a fundamental right in this country, and I think all of us do. And that’s all that today was about — our federal government should always protect that right. And as long as Donald Trump is president, he will.”

Sanders later expounded on her answer, noting that Trump is a “president who supports the First Amendment, supports the freedom of religion.”

“I don’t think I understand why that should be an issue,” she noted. “The Supreme Court has validated this decision certainly many times over.  And the President is somebody who believes in the Constitution. If people don’t like what the Constitution says, they should talk to Congress about changing it.”

Massachusetts’ senior senator, Democrat Elizabeth Warren of Cambridge, also chimed in on the order via social media, carefully choosing her words in a way that apparently pits the entire Republican Party against women.

“Evidently the GOP believe(s) the single most important issue facing our nation is to let employers deny women access to birth control coverage,” she wrote. “The year is 2017, not 1917. Millions of Americans use contraception to prevent pregnancy, avoid [sexually transmitted diseases] and manage health conditions. Access to birth control is about freedom and the ability to plan and build a future. This attack on basic health care is wrong.”

Healey, asked to describe her immediate emotions upon learning of the order, did not hold back.

“Emotions I felt? I’m really upset,” Healey said, adding however that the announcement did not surprise her. “But I think about the hypocrisy, the specific targeting of women, and it’s really gone — it makes me angry, yes — once again this is an administration that has taken actions to demonstrate they don’t believe they need to adhere to the rule of law, they don’t believe they need to abide by constitutional principles, it doesn’t seem to matter to them that they violate equal protection by promulgating a law that intentionally, specifically discriminates against women, they don’t seem to care that they violate the establishment clause by saying it’s O.K .for any employer to impose its religious beliefs on others.

“I find it shameful, but I’m glad we have the recourse of the courts and I am glad we were able to file today.”

Read a copy of Healey’s lawsuit:

2017-10-06 Healey v DHHS by Evan on Scribd