Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Attorney general sues to block Trump contraception rules

Washington’s lawsuit joins those of other states and legal organizations.

By Jessica Lee / The Seattle Times

SEATTLE —Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a federal lawsuit Monday seeking to block President Donald Trump’s recent revision to the Affordable Care Act that allows insurers and employers to opt out of covering contraceptives in their health insurance plans.

Charging the president with discrimination against women, the 30-page complaint claims the new rules violate equal-protection clauses and constitutional guarantees of religious freedom by allowing companies to use religious beliefs as a right to deny woman a federally entitled health benefit.

With the lawsuit, Washington joins several states and legal organizations suing over the new policy on contraceptives, which the president announced Friday.

“This is a senseless and reckless political ploy,” Gov. Jay Inslee said on Twitter Monday, declaring his support for Ferguson’s lawsuit. “Washington state will not let this stand.”

The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle alleges the Trump administration’s actions jeopardize women’s “health and economic success” in order to promote certain religious and moral views, as well as go against federal laws by acting without adequate notice or allowing for public comment.

The new rules, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, roll back Obama-era federal requirements that most companies cover birth control as preventive care for women, at no additional cost. They took effect Friday; for-profit companies and nonprofits are now allowed to cite a religious or moral objection to providing coverage for contraception. But the impact of the policy change will not be immediately known. Tens of thousands of woman nationwide could be affected.

For Trump supporters and religious conservatives, the shift in policy was a long-anticipated revision to the ACA — and an answer to Trump’s campaign promise to champion religious liberty. Dozens of dioceses and Catholic charities had sued Obama over his contraceptive-coverage mandate in his 2010 health care law.

The Family Policy Institute of Washington immediately commended Trump for reversing Obama’s actions so that companies can operate in line with their religious beliefs without facing federal consequences.

Chris Plante, chief operating officer and policy director for the institute, said Monday he was not surprised by Washington leaders’ push back, and he is confident the new rules will survive court challenges.

“This is an issue of privacy, an issue of individual liberty, and particularly in this case the liberty of the business,” Plante said.

More than 90,000 patients in Washington used state-funded reproductive health services last year, Ferguson’s office reported. More than three-quarters were women using contraceptives, saving the state an estimated $160 million in maternal and birth-related costs, according to a report from the Washington State Department of Health.

Several liberal advocacy groups and politicians were outraged by Trump’s announcement Friday, calling it a step backward in their efforts to promote LGBT and reproductive rights. Many immediately announced plans to try and block the policy change.

“Today, nine months after women across the country marched together to reject President Trump’s anti-woman agenda, he has rolled out a tax on their health care. This is wrong, it’s outrageous, and I will be pushing every Republican who claims to care about women’s health and economic security to join me in fighting back against it,” Sen. Patty Murray said in a statement last week.

Murray, who had been working with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., to stabilize the Affordable Care Act, is pushing the Save Women’s Preventive Care Act, which would keep health care such as birth control from being eliminated from the ACA.

According to a study commissioned by the Obama administration, more than 55 million women have access to birth control without co-payments because of the former contraceptive-coverage requirement. The mandate applies to all FDA-approved methods, including the morning-after pill.

Hours after Trump’s Friday announcement, Democratic attorney generals in California and Massachusetts filed lawsuits seeking to block the policy change, along with the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of its members and members of Service Employee International Union-United Health Care Workers West whom it said were at risk of losing their contraception coverage.

Monday’s lawsuit against the Trump administration is the latest in a series by Ferguson’s office since the president took office earlier this year.

“President Trump’s contraception rules are unfair, unlawful, and unconstitutional,” Ferguson said in a statement. “I refuse to let President Trump disregard our laws and our constitution in an effort to deny women access to contraception.”

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