(Photo: Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor put some temporary brakes on President Barack Obama's controversial Affordable Care Act for a group of Catholic nuns Tuesday night, just hours before it began forcing some religious-affiliated groups to provide health insurance covering birth control and abortion-inducing drugs or face heavy fines on Jan. 1.
A New York Times report said Justice Sotomayor issued a stay on the requirement at the request of the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns located in Colorado that operates nursing homes for low-income people in the United States and around the world. Justice Sotomayor also gave the Obama administration until Friday to respond to the Supreme Court.
"2014 marks 175 years that the Little Sisters of the Poor have been caring for the elderly and poor. We are grateful for the decision of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor granting us a temporary injunction protecting us from the HHS contraceptive mandate," noted the order in a statement posted on their website Wednesday.
"We hope and pray that we will receive a favorable outcome in order to continue to serve the elderly of all faiths with the same community support and religious freedom that we have always appreciated," it ended.
Along with the Little Sisters of the Poor the order also affects religious health benefit providers, Christian Brothers Services and Christian Brothers Employee Benefits Trust, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the nuns in the lawsuit. Locke Lord, a national law firm, and Kevin Walsh, a law professor at the University of Richmond are also a part of the legal team for the plaintiffs.
"We are delighted that the Supreme Court has issued this order protecting the Little Sisters," said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund in a statement Tuesday night. "The government has lots of ways to deliver contraceptives to people–it doesn't need to force nuns to participate."
Prior to the injunction, the Obama administration had argued that the contraceptive mandate placed "no substantial burden on their (nuns) exercise of religion," because they could opt out of the contraceptive coverage requirement by completing "a self-certification form" and providing it to the entity that administers their health benefits.
"To opt out of providing contraceptive coverage, Little Sisters need only certify that they are nonprofit organizations that hold themselves out as religious and that, because of religious objections, they are opposed to providing coverage for some or all contraceptive services," explained the Justice Department to the appeals court on Monday, according to the Times. They further argued that churches are except from the contraceptive coverage requirement while some religious nonprofits are offered certain accommodations.
The Becket Fund argued, however, that "the 'accommodation' still forces the Little Sisters to find an insurer who will cover sterilization, contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs and devices."
"The Sisters would also be required to sign a form that triggers the start of that coverage," the Fund noted. "In good conscience, they cannot do that. So the 'accommodation' still violates their religious beliefs."