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Lawsuit targets Trump’s rollback of birth-control rule

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) – Two national advocacy groups filed a federal lawsuit in Indiana on Tuesday challenging a rule change by President Donald Trump’s administration allowing more employers to opt out of no-cost birth control for workers.

The suit was filed on behalf of five women at risk of being denied birth control coverage, including three University of Notre Dame students. The Catholic university recently told staff and students that it planned to halt no-cost contraceptive coverage starting next year.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court by the National Women’s Law Center and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

“Blocking access to basic health care that 99 percent of women use at some point in their lives is unlawful, discriminatory and harmful,” Fatima Goss Graves, CEO of the women’s law center, said in a statement. “Everyone deserves birth control coverage, no matter where they work, how they are insured, or where they go to school. Our lawsuit aims to shut down this latest assault by President Trump on women’s health, equality, and economic security.”

Under new rules issued Oct. 7 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, employers and universities are allowed to cite religious or moral objections in order to end birth control coverage that was available under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

The South Bend Tribune reported earlier Tuesday that an email sent by Notre Dame to faculty and staff last Friday showed that coverage would end for employees on Jan. 1. Students under the school’s insurance plan, which provides contraceptives at no-cost through Aetna Student Health, would be covered until Aug. 14.

Three organizations that have been closely monitoring the birth-control debate – Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Women’s Law Center – told The Associated Press that they knew of no other major institution that had taken the same step following Trump’s decision earlier this month.

Notre Dame previously offered coverage through third-party administrator Meritain Health and prescription benefit manager OptumRX, which allowed the university to meet the federal health care law’s requirement while maintaining its religious opposition to contraceptives.

The university had filed a federal lawsuit challenging the mandate on religious grounds. That case was voluntarily dismissed on Oct. 17, after the Trump administration removed the requirement.

The university’s medical plan will cover contraceptives if they’re used to treat a specific medical condition and not as a method to prevent pregnancy. Those medications will come with standard prescription copayments.

School employees are allowed to use their own funds in Flexible Spending Accounts to pay for birth control medication, university officials said. A nearby Planned Parenthood clinic could also be an alternative option for students looking for birth control.

Planned Parenthood has launched a campaign that urges employers to publicly commit to continuing birth control coverage. The organization says birth control opens up education and career opportunities for women.