U.S. District Judge Haywood S. Gilliam, Northern District of California. Photo: Jason Doiy/ALM

U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam of the Northern District of California has issued a preliminary injunction barring the Trump administration’s rule changes allowing some employers to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Gilliam found the process leading to the changes violated the Administrative Procedure Act, a ruling that mirrored findings by U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, who ruled against the administration in a similar case last week.

In October, the Trump administration issued rule changes expanding the scope of the exemption for religious organizations under the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage mandate, and created a new exemption based on “moral objections.”

The states of California, Delaware, Maryland, New York and Virginia sued in the Northern District of California, and sought an injunction barring the rule changes in early November. The states argued the administration’s moves would put scores of women at risk of losing their no-cost contraceptive coverage under the ACA. The states also argued the rule changes violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires a notice-and-comment period prior to most federal rulemaking.

In Thursday’s ruling, Gilliam acknowledged early the federal government’s lawyers’ contention that this is a case “about religious liberty and freedom of conscience.” But, he wrote that the federal agencies’ action amounted to “a reversal of their approach to striking the proper balance between substantial governmental and societal interests.”

Gilliam ruled that the states had shown they “face potentially dire public health and fiscal consequences as a result of a process as to which they had no input.”

In a statement, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, whose office has been leading the litigation before Gilliam, said that “a woman, not her boss and certainly not a politician, should decide what’s best for her own healthcare.”

Said Becerra: “In concert with last week’s injunction in Pennsylvania, today’s ruling amounts to a one-two punch against the Trump Administration’s unlawful overreach.”

Gilliam’s full ruling is posted below: