On January 11th Californians took the Trump administration to court over its decision to allow more employers to opt out of providing no-cost birth control for women. Judge Haywood Gilliam had previously blocked an interim version of those rules - a decision that was upheld in December by an appeals court.
However, the case has been revived after the administration finalised the measures in November, prompting a renewed legal challenge by California and other states. Gilliam is not expected to rule immediately at the end of the hearing.
Under President Barack Obama's health care law, birth control services are covered at no additional cost, with exemptions for religious organisations. The new rules that are set to go into effect on January 14th would give more categories of employers, including publicly traded companies, further excuses, including objections on religious grounds, to back out of the requirement. They would also allow small businesses and other employers to object on moral grounds. The rules "protect a narrow class of sincere religious and moral objectors from being forced to facilitate practices that conflict with their beliefs," the US Department of Justice said in court documents.
Under the new regulations millions of women could lose free birth control services, forcing them to seek contraceptive care through state-run programmes and possibly leading to unintended pregnancies.
Attorneys for California and the other states mentioned that in court documents the new rules were very similar to the interim measures. One difference is a suggestion in the new rules that women can seek contraceptive coverage through federal family planning clinics for people on low-incomes. However, states attorneys say that would be an inadequate replacement for the contraceptive coverage many women currently have free access to.