The Obama administration cannot enforce the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage requirements against a Catholic nuns’ order for the time being, if the nuns tell the government they object to providing that coverage, the Supreme Court ruled Friday afternoon.
The Supreme Court’s action could defuse for the time being a showdown between religious employers and the federal government over the procedures for providing contraceptive coverage to employees of hospitals, nursing homes and other entities run by religious groups.
In an order issued by the court without any noted dissent, the justices said that — at least for now — the Little Sisters for the Poor did not have to follow the procedure the Obama Administration established for religious groups to escape complying with rules requiring that employer-provided coverage include contraceptives. Instead of filling out a government-issued form, the nuns can simply send the Department of Health and Human Services a written notice that the order is a religious organization with “religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services.”
On Dec. 31, just hours before the requirement took effect, Justice Sotomayor had temporarily blocked enforcement of that part of the law against the nuns and some affiliated groups.
According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the nuns and other challengers to the requirement, preliminary injunctions had been granted in the lower courts in almost all of 20 similar cases. Justice Sotomayor acted after the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver, declined to issue an injunction.
The nuns, who operate nursing homes for poor people in the United States and around the world, provide health benefits to employees through a “church plan” that is exempt from federal regulations that apply to most employer-sponsored insurance, the administration said. The nuns, their health plan and the company that administers the plan will not be required to cover birth control, the administration said in urging the Supreme Court to dissolve Justice Sotomayor’s stay.