State AG sues Trump over birth control rules; Planned Parenthood official angry

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro on Wednesday sued President Trump and the Trump Administration for issuing new rules that Shapiro says allow virtually any company to deny women insurance coverage for basic, medically-necessary contraception.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court in Philadelphia, says the rules issued last week by the Trump Administration violate federal law, which requires insurance companies to cover preventive health care services, including contraception, with no co-pay.

The administration’s action and new rules mean that 2.5 million Pennsylvania women and their families could have to pay more for basic health care, Shapiro says.

“The federal government under the direction of the Trump Administration broke the law and undermined the health and economic independence of American women,” Shapiro said at a news conference Wednesday in Philadelphia with women’s health advocates and members of the medical community.

Meanwhile, others are voicing their opinions about Trump’s rules.

Jessica Semler, a public affairs director for Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, called the measure an unprecedented attack on women’s health care.

“This is deeply invasive,” Semler said. “A woman’s health care should be between her and her doctor, not at the discretion of her boss or the president for that matter.”

A major problem Semler sees with the mandate is the vague and unspecified nature of a religious or moral objection.

“A moral objection is so broad,” Semler said. “We live in the United States. You don’t have to have the same religion as your employer or the same moral values.”

Semler said nine out of 10 women will use birth control at some point in their lives, often for reasons other than preventing pregnancy.

“It’s not controversial, and it should be treated like any other kind of preventative health care,” Semler said.

Semler said the number of unplanned pregnancies is now at a 40-year low, which she credits to increased access to sex education and contraception.

“It’s really troubling that this is what the president thinks we need to address right now,” Semler said. “We saw attempts to repeal the ACA (Affordable Care Act) get shut down three times, so this is not what Americans want right now.”

Robyn Shields, executive director of ABC Life Center in Franklin, said she doesn’t believe this mandate limits women’s choices.

“I don’t think this is giving the employer power over the employee’s choices, but it’s giving them the choice over what they’ll pay for and what they’ll be involved with,” Shields said. “Whose rights precede whose? That has been the question for a lot of things.”

ABC Life Center is a Christian pro-life organization that promotes abstinence before marriage and barrier methods of birth control for married couples.

“A lot of people need to take the birth control pill to regulate their cycle or for other problems,” Shields said. “We are by no means saying that shouldn’t happen.”

When asked whether employers may apply for the exemption even without having a sincere religious reason, Shields said that would probably be more legal trouble to the employer than it’s worth.

“They would probably spend more money trying to do that than they would save,” she said.

(Staff writer Jim Meyer interviewed Jessica Semler and Robyn Shields for this story.)