FRIDAY, Jan. 3, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The Obama
administration on Friday contested U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia
Sotomayor's decision temporarily exempting an order of Catholic
nuns from the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate.
Under the health-reform law, most employer health plans are
required to cover U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved birth
control at no out-of-pocket cost to employees. Large employers face
a potential tax if they do not comply.
However, the Obama administration has established an exemption
for group health plans offered by a "religious employer."
The Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, a Denver-based
order of Catholic nuns that runs nursing homes for the elderly,
argued that it should not be forced to participate in the mandate
in any way.
Sotomayor's last-minute order, issued just before the Jan. 1
coverage requirement took effect, temporarily prevents the
administration from enforcing the mandate.
Responding to the order, the U.S. Justice Department said the
nuns' request for relief should be denied because it isn't
"necessary or appropriate."
"In particular, with the stroke of their own pen, the applicants can secure for themselves the relief they seek from this Court -- an exemption from the requirements of the contraception coverage provision," the department stated.
In other words, to gain an exemption, the nuns need only sign a
"certification form" expressing their religious objection to
contraceptive coverage, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli
explained in court papers.
Mark Rienzi, the Little Sisters' lead counsel and senior counsel
for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C.,
blasted the Obama administration's position.
"The government demands that the Little Sisters of the Poor sign a permission slip for abortion drugs and contraceptives, or pay millions in fines," he said in a statement issued Friday. "The Sisters believe that doing that violates their faith, and that they shouldn't be forced to divert funds from the poor elderly and dying people they've devoted their lives to serve."
Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at The Becket Fund, said
Friday that his organization intends to file a response to the
Justice Department memo. It will be up to Sotomayer to either rule
on the Little Sisters' request or refer it to the entire U.S.
Supreme Court, he said.
There are currently 91 lawsuits challenging the contraceptive
mandate, according to the Becket Fund.
Read the U.S. Justice Department's memo
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