At the Last Second, Supreme Court Blocks Affordable Care Act Contraception Mandate

When you consider that the Supreme Court has six Catholics on the bench, maybe this news isn’t too surprising: Justice Sonia Sotomayor, just before heading to Times Square to help drop the ball and ring in the new year, blocked the part of the Affordable Care Act that would have mandated certain religiously-affiliated organizations provide comprehensive health care to their employees.

Her ruling means that, for now, certain religiously-affiliated businesses will not have to provide health insurance that includes birth control to their workers. The government has until Friday to respond.

Here’s a little more information about what’s going on:

Tomorrow was supposed to be the first day when all businesses of a certain size had to provide comprehensive health care for its employees. Religious organizations — like churches — were exempt from that law. But what about groups that aren’t churches but still religious in nature, like Catholic hospitals and religion-based adoption agencies? The Obama administration offered a compromise so that those groups wouldn’t have to directly pay for things they oppose (like birth control) but would still provide employees with access to them… but religious groups balked. It wasn’t enough.

Recently, a bunch of Catholic organizations providing support for the poor and elderly argued that they, too, should be exempt from the law even though they weren’t a church. A U.S. District Court judge ruled over the weekend that they were already exempt, but the groups said they didn’t want to indirectly provide birth control via a third party, either. Their request for a stay on the ruling was denied by a federal appeals court earlier today, so they asked the Supreme Court to step in, and that’s what Justice Sotomayor did tonight.

Legal reasons notwithstanding, I can’t stress enough how awful this ruling is. If an organization that is supposed to help those less fortunate gets to avoid playing by the rules because of its religious nature, what’s going to stop courts from saying Christian-owned businesses like Hobby Lobby should be exempt as well? (The Hobby Lobby case is a separate one that will be heard by the Court this spring.)

Simply put, the religious exemptions that are already in the law are enough. Organizations that don’t have a strictly religious purpose should not be given a free pass from a law everyone else has to follow just because the leaders’ personal beliefs don’t allow for it. It’s bad policy, and worse ethics, to deny employees from having access to contraception (or blood transfusions, if the owner was a Jehovah’s Witness) just because the boss doesn’t like it.

Yet that’s what Justice Sotomayor’s last-second ruling allows. It’s only temporary but it would make for awful precedence if it stays that way. Remember: No one is forcing anybody to use birth control. The law only says employees should be allowed to have access to it. That’s what these Catholic groups are fighting against. They want total control over their employees’ bodies even if it harms them in the long run.

“We are delighted with the ruling,” said Mark L. Rienzi, a lawyer at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who represented the nuns in the lawsuit. “We are delighted that the Supreme Court will require the government to file briefs in the court on this matter.” The Little Sisters of the Poor operate nursing homes for low-income people in the United States and around the world.

Without Justice Sotomayor’s order, the nuns “would have been forced to comply with the contraceptive mandate on Wednesday or face large fines,” Mr. Rienzi said late Tuesday.

Yes, I’m sure the nuns were worried about having all that access to birth control…

It goes without saying that this argument by the Catholic groups doesn’t represent the 82% of Catholics who say using birth control is morally acceptable. It’s time for those Catholics to leave the Church. They need to stop supporting an organization so corrupt that it would deprive people — especially women — from making their own decisions about contraception.

(Image via Shutterstock)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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