California Court Enjoins Religious and Moral Exemptions

In late November 2018, we reported that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had issued regulations that allowed for religious and moral exemptions to contraception coverage provided by group health plans. On January 13, 2019, a California court enjoined implementation of these regulations for the states that brought suit against HHS in State of California v. Health and Human Services (N.D. Cal. Jan. 13, 2019), including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia. Unlike similar injunctions in previous years on high-profile laws, regulations, and executive orders, this injunction is not effective nationwide.

In issuing the injunction, the California federal district court reasoned that it was likely that the plaintiff states would succeed on their claim that the HHS exemptions violate the Women’s Health Amendment, and that the exemption is not required because of provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. A similar case was brought previously in Massachusetts and is under review by the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the listed states, the future of the HHS regulations is unclear pending the outcome of further litigation.