Updated 2:51 p.m. ET, 1/1/2014
(CNN) – The Supreme Court has temporarily delayed key requirements of the Affordable Care Act impacting religious-affiliated groups, accelerating another high-stakes legal test for the sweeping law championed by President Barack Obama.
In a surprising twist just hours before the start of the New Year when most major rules of Obamacare were set to take effect, Justice Sonia Sotomayor exempted two Catholic Church-affiliated nonprofits from having to provide contraceptive coverage to employees of face fines for non-compliance.
The Little Sisters of the Poor, a charity congregation of Roman Catholics in Denver, and the Illinois-based Christian Brothers Services, objected on moral and religious grounds and were excused from having to comply until Friday at least.
Sotomayor set that date as the deadline for the federal government to file a legal response.
The White House on Wednesday expressed support for the measure.
The justice's action was narrowly applied but it could ultimately impact dozens of religious groups and businesses that have mounted legal challenges in recent months, depending on how the court ultimately handles the matter.
The contraception issue has been a major sticking point in the law, Obama's signature diplomatic achievement, that overall has been the subject of enormous legal and political controversy.
Although enacted in 2010, key requirements of the Affordable Care Act are just now kicking into gear following years of fierce political and other turmoil that included a Supreme Court ruling that found it constitutional and a flawed rollout of its online enrollment process this past fall.
Congressional Republicans and others who bitterly oppose Obamacare call it government overreach, a burden on business and the economy, and a regulatory disaster. Repeated attempts to overturn it have failed yet Republicans continue to press the issue in the courts and on the campaign trail.
The church and state issue now in the spotlight involves rules negotiated last year between the Obama administration and various outside groups.
Under the law, churches and houses of worships are exempt from the contraception mandate.
But other nonprofit religious-affiliated groups, such as church-run hospitals, parochial schools and charities like the Little Sisters of the Poor, must either provide no-cost contraception coverage or have a third-party insurer provide separate benefits without the employer's direct involvement.
A White House official on Wednesday said the Obama administration was confident the 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."
The matter handled by Sotomayor was separate from other emergency appeals filed on Tuesday by Catholic archdioceses in Michigan, Tennessee and Washington, D.C. They were not acted on because lower courts had already issued injunctions temporarily blocking enforcement.
These organizations are all seeking delays around the employer-contraception requirement, saying in their court filing it would force them "to choose between onerous penalties or becoming complicit in a grave moral wrong."
Moreover, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, pressed Obama directly on the issue.
He asked him in a letter to delay the mandates impacting religious groups and some businesses.
Kurtz pointed to other delays the administration has made, such as putting off until 2015 the requirement for all employers with more than 50 workers to provide health coverage.
The Supreme Court agreed last month to hear two cases involving for-profit corporations that contend their religious liberty is violated by the law.
The White House said in November that it believes a requirement on contraceptives is "lawful and essential to women's health."
– CNN's Eric Marrapodi, Jim Acosta, and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.
Thank you, Sonya Sotomayor!
If the Church is FORCED then they should immediately end all social services and charity to the less fortunate and simply tell them to let Barry take care of them!
Ok, so first, this isn't a ruling on the mandate...it's a delay...all, please remember that.
Now, my question is, where do you draw the line? If someone say's it their religious belief that their company shouldn't have to cover blood transfusions, do we allow that? Where is that line?
Come on lets get real. Motorcycle helmets aren't covered. Cups for athletes are not covered. A safety harness for a climber is not covered. This has nothing to do with repressing women. Contraceptives are for recreational use. You chose to have sex. Unless you have a STD they should not be covered.
This country will bend over backwards to not offend every religion except christians
Stop 'mandating' stuff and telling people how to live. Stay out of my church, my bedroom, and my pocketbook.
Hmmm...."employees"....means a business and there is nothing in the constitution to exempt businesses from any law.
Of course, the churches years ago went to court to get themselves declared to be a business (which in reality they are), but now want to argue against that because it doesn't fit their "agenda." Can't have it both ways. Either you are a business or you are a religion. And if you are a business, then no exemptions. If you are a religion, then you don't have employees and cannot claim any favors for such.
Obama's government is worthless. Laws are supposed to pertain to all. If it is not good for one group, then it is not good for all........................This man must go.
Why are thse employers being allowed to force their Catholic belief onto their non-Catholic employees.
They could care less what their employees beliefs are and nothing is being forced on the employees. What the looney left wants is to force religious people TO PAY FOR SERVICES OR PRODUCTS THAT VIOLATE THEIR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS. If the employees want that stuff, then they can go buy it and pay for it out of their own pocket. The only force being used here is by the government on religious people.
Just because contraceptives are part of the list of medicines an insurance company offers, it does not mean an employee of a Catholic parish or a church affiliated charity is forced to use or buy them. The employee is ultimately responsible for chosing what to use. If an employee wants to folllow the traditions of the Catholic Church, she will not need a priest or anyone else to tell her she cannot use birth control. The Catholic Church should stop wasting money anguing this point in the courts and concentrate in helping people as taught by Pope Frances.
Just pray that 2014 is better than 2013 – time for sanity and integrity to be resurrected in our society.
Lie of the year and the act needs to be repealed. It was passed on lies, its not affordable, if you like your ins you can keep it, nope. If you like your doctor you can keep him, nope. If you're in the middleclass its not affordable and in 2008 BHO said the mandate would not be in his plan and called said "if the mandate was the solution your fix homelessness by mandating everyone buy a house, but it ends up costing too much!"
Now this is completely ridiculous the mandate is for the insurance company to provide the coverage not on the individual to take the medication therefore no rights are violated!!! The insurance company have no rights unless the court is pulling a Romney "Corporations are people" routine!!! Rights are violated not by requiring they provide a good or service but by an individual being mandated to use that good or service!!! If the court is truly unbiased and fair, they will rule in that manner!!!
Impeach obama the liar,and dictator,who like to go against the public .and give back our democracy.
So very glad this happened
Let the RC church pay taxes. Why not? They call the fire dept when there is a fire, and police dept when they are victimized by theft and other crimes. Now they appeal for additional exemptions. The church should not decree how people use and safeguard their bodies.
Now obama leave me alone plz,I need to pay my mortgage ,my car is getting old ,if u want $ , go somewhere else,like the top 1 % .
No one should be forced to believe in Obama's beliefs.
Just more circus music and background laughter.....each time obamacare is mentioned.
Well, at least they get to deny their employees, who of course have no rights since they're simply people, to have access to often expensive contraceptives and often for reasons other than not having children. Most over 50 women I know use contraceptives for hormonal balance. Maybe the rightwing can legislate more invasive rape-like procedures to "educate" women so that can be as smart as Phil Robertson (aka "Daffy Duck") about how this all works.
At j. Obama will not be impeached. So stop dreaming. I don't believe In paying for tommy g. Viagra but it is covered to. So suck It up.
What if the Church just said NO. What is Obama going to Do? Sue 2 billion Catholics?
Some politician in Boston tried to make a name for himself by attacking the Church. Catholic Charities Of Massachusetts said they would stop contributing to the Social Welfare programs that they do.
Someone realized that if the State were forced to take on the contributions that the Church makes it would bankrupt the Commonwealth and they backed off.
If the Church is FORCED then they should immediately end all social services and charity to the less fortunate and simply tell them to let Barry take care of them!"
GREAT!!!! Then "the Church" can also give up its tax free status, legal protections of pedophiles, cherry picking of medical services and a countless number of other legal exceptions granted to it. Better yet, how about "the Church" just go back to Rome.
Churches are not medical professionals, they do not get a say.
Are these churches so stupid that they not realize that contraception keeps the abortion rate down? Is religion that backward? No wonder people are leaving the church in droves.
Steel, How about the government get out of our personal lives. If you want a condom, go get it, but don't tell me I have to pay for it.