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Thousands of women in the U.S. just almost lost birth control access

Here's how close we got to thousands of women losing access to affordable birth control.

Here's how close we got to thousands of women losing access to affordable birth control. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Earlier this week, women across the United States very nearly found themselves with fewer choices for their reproductive health.

Monday was the effective date of new Trump administration rules for employer-sponsored healthcare plans, which would have allowed businesses and nonprofits to opt out of providing birth control to their employees if they claimed doing so would violate their “religious beliefs” or “moral convictions.” According to the New York Times, that policy change promised to leave some 70,500 women without access to affordable birth control.

But on Sunday, Oakland, California judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr. placed an injunction on the rules in 13 states -- including Minnesota. There were 14 Democratic attorneys general (the District of Columbia was also represented) arguing the case, led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

“It’s 2019, yet the Trump administration is still trying to roll back women’s rights,” Becerra said in a statement; employers have “no business interfering with women’s healthcare decisions.”

On Monday, Wendy Beetlestone, a federal judge in Pennsylvania, broadened the injunction to include the entire country, effective immediately. Allowing businesses and nonprofits to skimp on birth control on religious or moral grounds violates the Women’s Health Amendment, she said. (That’s a provision in the Affordable Care Act that guarantees access to low-cost or no-cost birth control.)

Even a short stint with decreased access to birth control, she said, could have had “irreversible” negative effects. Pregnancy, for one.

Is the day saved for birth control? Not by a long shot. The injunction is simply a delay on these rules until courts fully hear the cases and determine whether the rules are legally sound. The United States Department of Justice, which has been defending the rules in court, will likely appeal Beetlestone’s decision. It said in a statement that “religious organizations” should not “be forced to violate their mission and deeply-held beliefs” by offering their employees family planning coverage.

Meanwhile, Minnesota Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights organizations are working with state legislators to get a law on the books that would guarantee access to birth control – at least locally – free of employer or insurance barriers. Planned Parenthood spokesperson Jennifer Aulwes says the Protect Access to Contraception bill should be introduced in the Legislature next week.

“Birth control is really basic healthcare for women,” she says. Having access to it, she says, can determine whether a woman has access to higher levels of education and high-paying jobs. It can alter the trajectory of her life. Planned Parenthood has been keeping an eye on these new rules for quite some time, monitoring their progress.

“The ruling was a huge victory for women across the country,” she says. But it’s not over yet.