On January 13, 2019, Federal Judge Haywood Gilliam blocked Trump administration contraception rules from going into effect in Washington, D.C., and thirteen states. The plaintiff states are challenging two final rules announced by the Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury, and Labor in November 2018. According to the agencies, those rules provide flexibility to employers with moral or religious objections to health insurance plans that cover contraception and sterilization. Under the new rules, those employers would be able to offer alternative health insurance plans without such coverage.
The agencies issued the rules following a process called notice-and-comment rulemaking. That process allows agencies to amend, repeal, or create administrative regulations after considering public feedback on proposed rules.
Judge Gilliam agreed to issue an injunction against the new rules because he found that the suing states’ finances would suffer as a result of the new rules. First, the states claimed the rules would lead women to lose employer-sponsored contraceptive coverage and turn to the state for reimbursement after purchasing contraceptives. Next, the states argued that the rate of unintended pregnancies would rise following the implementation of the new rules. They claimed that the rise in unintended pregnancies would lead to higher expenses because states pay for child delivery and newborn care for mothers who have low incomes.
Judge Gilliam held that the states showed that the rules posed a reasonably probable threat to their economic interests because they would have to pay for contraceptives that had been guaranteed cost-free by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Gilliam held that granting an injunction against the rules was the only way to redress the potential harm to the states while their lawsuit makes its way through the court system. He limited the injunction to the plaintiff states and Washington, D.C., because the case involves difficult questions of law that might benefit from multiple decisions in various courts of appeals.
Judge Gilliam also defended his decision to issue a preliminary injunction against the contraception rules using the arbitrary-or-capricious test. That test comes from the part of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), that instructs courts reviewing agency actions to invalidate any that they find to be arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law. The plaintiff states argued that the new rules are not in accordance with the ACA, which is one of the relevant laws that determine what rules agencies may pass regarding contraception. The parties to the case will discuss the next phase of the lawsuit at a case management conference scheduled for January 23rd.