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Judge blocks Trump's order that provides religious exemptions to HHS contraceptive mandate

(Reuters/Joshua Roberts)Nuns with Little Sisters of the Poor wave after Zubik v. Burwell, an appeal brought by Christian groups demanding full exemption from the requirement to provide insurance covering contraception under the Affordable Care Act, was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, March 23, 2016.

A U.S. judge has blocked President Donald Trump's order that exempts religious employers from covering contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs on their employees' health insurance.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone issued a preliminary injunction preventing the enforcement of the order, saying she would not permit such "sweeping exemptions" to the contraceptive mandate that was inserted to the Affordable Care Act by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the Obama administration.

In early October, the Trump administration announced a new rule allowing businesses or nonprofits to obtain exemptions from the HHS mandate on moral or religious grounds, prompting Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro to file a lawsuit to block the order.

In her ruling, the judge said that Shapiro was likely to succeed in establishing that the administration had not followed proper notice procedures when issuing the order.

Beetlestone contended that the HHS, the Department of Labor and the Department of Treasury had interpreted the Affordable Care Act "in a manner inconsistent with its text."

She pointed to the "remarkable breadth" of the new rules, arguing that it would allow corporations to deny contraceptive coverage for female employees, not just for religious reasons but also for any moral reason they could articulate.

"It is difficult to comprehend a rule that does more to undermine the Contraceptive Mandate or that intrudes more into the lives of women," the judge said, according to Reuters.

She contended that Pennsylvania was "likely to suffer serious and irreparable harm" if she did not order the preliminary injunction.

In a Twitter post, Shapiro described the ruling as a "critical victory for millions of women and families and for the rule of law."

Among the faith organizations affected by the HHS mandate was the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of nuns who care for the elderly.

The Little Sisters and other religious entities such as Hobby Lobby had refused to comply with the mandate despite facing massive fines. When Trump signed the new rule in the White House Rose Garden, he called the Little Sisters to join him on stage.

"No American should be forced to choose between the dictates of the federal government and the tenants of their faith," Trump said at the time.

The pro-life Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List), which is also affected by the nationwide preliminary injunction, denounced Beetlestone's ruling in a statement sent to Breitbart News.

"This is a shameful ruling that seeks to continue the Obama-era assault on conscience rights and religious liberty. Why should Catholic nuns who care for the elderly poor be forced by the government to provide abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans?" said SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser.

"There is absolutely no 'compelling state interest' in forcing pro-life employers to violate their consciences to provide abortion-inducing drugs," she added.

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