AG backs case against Trump contraception rules

By: - January 8, 2019 1:04 am

Attorney General Dana Nessel is joining Massachusetts and other states in fighting rules issued under President Donald Trump’s administration meant to roll back Barack Obama-era mandates that had compelled insurance companies to cover the cost of contraception.

The new Trump rules offer more leeway to companies and nonprofits wishing to deny birth control coverage to employees due to religious objections and non-religious moral objections.

Dana Nessel

Nessel, a Democrat, announced today that she will file an amicus brief against the new rules after a federal appeals court upheld a court-ordered freeze on them last month in several states.

“Michigan has a compelling interest in protecting the health, well-being and economic security of our residents,” Nessel said in a statement.  “We are committed to ensuring a strong and robust regulatory framework that makes contraception widely available and as affordable as possible to advance educational opportunity, workplace equality and financial empowerment for women to improve the health of women and children, and to reduce healthcare-related costs for individuals, families, and the State of Michigan.”

In December, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a preliminary injunction that applies to five states that joined a lawsuit against the Trump administration. That includes California, Delaware, Maryland, New York and Virginia. Massachusetts and other states have also filed amicus briefs supporting the case.

“While Michigan did not join this case when it first began, we are joining it now,” Nessel said. “We are on firm ground and are pushing back on the federal government to ensure our residents get the protection they need.”

Nessel’s announcement was hailed by reproductive rights advocates.

“Birth control is not controversial. We are thrilled to have Dana fighting the ideologues standing between women and their doctors,” said Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan spokeswoman Angela Vasquez-Giroux.

It is a markedly different approach from former Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican. During his eight years as Michigan’s attorney general before being term-limited on Jan. 1, Schuette fought against compelling employers to cover contraception in employee health care plans, a provision that is part of the federal Affordable Care Act.

Schuette sided with Hobby Lobby in a U.S. Supreme Court case over the company’s refusal to provide contraceptive care to employees due to religious objections. He said then that the provision, which was opposed by anti-abortion groups, was a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“Religious liberty is America’s first freedom,” Schuette said in a 2012 statement. “Any rule, regulation or law that forces faith-based institutions to provide services that violate their free exercise of religion is a flat-out violation of the First Amendment. I will continue to uphold my duty and protect the constitutional rights of the citizens of Michigan.”

More broadly, Schuette had previously vowed to “fight Obamacare tooth and nail” in 2011.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in November 2018 the new Trump rules apply to objections to the contraception mandate “on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs.” A second rule the department adopted under Trump “provides protections to nonprofit organizations and small businesses that have non-religious moral convictions opposing services covered in the mandate.”

The rules also apply to educational institutions, although the non-religious moral exemption doesn’t extend to “publicly traded businesses” or government entities, according to the federal department.

Anti-abortion advocates were also angered by one of GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder’s last acts before leaving office on Jan. 1. He vetoed legislation that would have permanently banned doctors from prescribing abortion pills over the phone.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein

Michael Gerstein is a former Advance reporter covering the Governor's office, criminal justice and the environment.