More than 70 employers quietly dropped a collective 13 lawsuits against the Trump administration on Monday, after the administration assured them they wouldn’t be forced to provide birth control coverage for the women who work at their companies.
This legal settlement is the latest ripple to follow the administration’s Oct. 6 announcement that it would rescind an Affordable Care Act provision that mandated employers provide contraception coverage.
But the settlement will actually go even further than that rollback: The lawyers involved with the settlement say it will permanently guarantee that, no matter what the regulations are or which administration is in power, the government can’t force these employers to ever provide contraception coverage.
If a future administration once again mandated that religious employers provide birth control coverage, “we’d be vulnerable to having to do this all over again in 10 years or eight years,” explained John Quincy Masteller, general counsel for Thomas Aquinas College, a Catholic school that settled with the Trump administration. But with this settlement, “the government agrees that they will not enforce the [Obama] administration regulation or any materially similar one that may come down the pike in the future.”
This settlement may only be the first of many. Dozens of religious groups sued President Barack Obama’s administration over its signature healthcare bill, in several separate lawsuits. Some of these cases even made their way to the Supreme Court in June 2017, under the name Zubik v. Burwell, but the justices refrained from offering a ruling, instead sending the cases back to lower courts.
Instead of letting courts decide, though, the Trump administration jumped into the fray. Masteller said he “would speculate very strongly” that the rest of these companies are also about to enter into similar settlements, and comments from attorneys in other lawsuits appear to back him up.
A spokesperson for the law firm Becket, which is representing the Little Sisters of the Poor in a separate contraception lawsuit — and whose clients appeared in a Rose Garden ceremony with President Trump in May — told VICE News that the firm is currently in negotiations with the Department of Justice.
According to a statement by Thomas Aquinas College, the Trump administration has even agreed to pick up some of the employer’s legal tabs, even though there’s no legal need to do so.