Judge Wendy Beetlestone. Judge Wendy Beetlestone.

A federal judge has granted the federal government’s request for a stay of proceedings pending its appeal of an injunction against the Trump administration’s order easing the contraceptive coverage mandate under the Affordable Care Act.

In December, U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania halted the so-called “moral exemption rule” and the religious exemption rule, which allow employers to opt out of offering no-cost contraceptive coverage based on sincerely-held religious beliefs or moral convictions. She granted the government’s request for a stay Feb. 9.

The federal government argued the rules are intended to permit a small number of religious objectors to opt out of covering birth control because the requirement would impose a substantial burden on their religious practices. But the state of Pennsylvania argued the exemptions would allow almost any employer to withhold insurance coverage for contraceptives, impacting millions of Americans.

The case, filed by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, was supported by a coalition of 19 state attorneys general.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who was part of the coalition, in announcing Beetlestone’s Dec. 15 ruling tweeted that, “Our brief was crystal clear: in attacking women’s access to basic health care,  violated the Equal Protection Clause and Establishment Clauses.”

In their Feb. 8 motion, the federal defendants said a stay would not affect the injunction already in place and noted that they would file status reports as the case is litigated before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

“The appellate proceedings are relevant to, and could have a dispositive effect, on the district court litigation. For example, defendants have argued that a preliminary injunction is inappropriate because the court lacks jurisdiction to entertain this suit,” said the government’s motion for a stay pending appeal. “If the appellate court agrees, then any further proceedings in this court will be unnecessary—and unwarranted.”

“Moreover, the Third Circuit’s views of plaintiff’s likelihood of success on the merits could affect the court’s view of defendants’ pending motion to dismiss and, if one becomes necessary, its summary judgment motion,” it continued. “Waiting for the court of appeals to weigh in before deciding these motions, then, could obviate the need for the Third Circuit to remand the case to this court for additional proceedings if the appellate court views the case differently than this court. A stay would, in short, protect the court and the parties from unnecessarily, or imprudently, expending time or resources on this case. Plaintiff does not oppose this request.”