Full realization of President Obama’s signature health care reform initiative was thwarted hours before it went into full effect when federal jurists temporarily blocked the law’s requirement that religion-affiliated organizations cover contraception in their employees’ insurance.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who oversees the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, imposed a stay at the behest of the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, an order of nuns in Colorado, on Dec. 31. She gave U.S. Department of Health and Human Services until Jan. 3 to respond to the order.
The government is “temporarily enjoined from enforcing against applicants the contraceptive coverage requirements imposed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” Sotomayor wrote in her order.
A last-ditch effort by the Archdiocese of Washington, another of several Catholic-affiliated groups around the country who sued HHS to exempt them from the contraception requirement, was also rewarded with an injunction by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
“We are grateful for the decision of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor granting us a temporary injunction protecting us from the HHS contraceptive mandate,” said Little Sisters of the Poor, a national organization whose branches have been caring for the elderly for almost two centuries, in a statement.
“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.”
Under the health law, or Obamacare, insurance plans have to provide preventive services, including FDA-approved birth control and sterilization, free of charge to the patient.
Houses of worship are exempt from compliance, but not religiously-affiliated hospitals, universities and social service groups that serve the public.
Early last year, the Obama administration offered a compromise – a buffer for the religious groups – in which insurers would pay for the objectionable pregnancy prevention services. However, the organizations would have to sign a form authorizing plan administrators to pay for the services and, the groups argued, that would still violate their beliefs.
Such self-certification would render them “complicit in a grave moral wrong,” the Archdiocese of Washington said in its emergency motion for injunction. Further, the law forces them to choose between the free exercise of their religion – not contributing to the use of “abortion-inducing” products – and paying “crippling fines.”
The injunction “is in line with the rulings of courts all across the country which have held that the HHS mandate imposes a substantial and impermissible burden on the free exercise of religion,” the Archdiocese said in a statement Dec. 31. “These decisions also vindicate the pledge of the U.S. Catholic bishops to stand united in resolute defense of the first and most sacred freedom – religious liberty.”
The adminstration’s reaction to this most recent roadblock to Obamacare was placid.
"We defer to the Department of Justice on litigation matters, but remain confident that our final rules strike the balance of providing women with free contraceptive coverage while preventing non-profit religious organizations with religious objections to contraceptive coverage from having to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for such coverage," a White House official told NBC News.