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.
I don't want to pay for any unwanted babies or people's Viagra. How do I get my exemptions?
adibese...Obama say's you have to pay
Fine- you don't want to have the ACA cover your people? Great! No problem- now let's see about you paying taxes then. We can start by revoking your 501c3 status... oh... you're for profit, private business? Then get in line like everyone else and stop treating women like crap.
Wonder why they do not also protest providing ED drugs to men too. Wonder how many priests us those?
I think an organization that has limitless tax free status.. should just accept that they are NOT special businesses. They all need to be taxed like all US businesses.. Billions of dollars are made by these tax free scam organizations. They have huge investments in businesses that have nothing to do with charity.. including property.
Its time they pay their way like other businesses do.
How about the tax payer not having to pay for millions of irresponsible welfare breeders.. no children on welfare..
If you make em.. YOU pay for them... not the US tax payer...
no tax payer birth control .. ok but then no tax payer child support either.. It is time people stop using the tax payers as child support resource. They can control reproduction just like tax payers do.. control yourself... and stop making kids you can't or won't take care of your self.. I do not own anyone free child care or support..
You are Breeding to much.... no more freeloaders...
The final decision if to use or not use contraception should be with the individual. No organization should decide.
"Church-based" is not the same as "church".
The argument is specious.
So now these churches, whose tax exempt status should be immediately withdrawn over this, get to dictate what goes on in the health decisions of their employees? Wrong Wrong Wrong! The catholic church needs to leave the doctoring to doctors and politics to politicians. They sure are not arguing with prescribing Viagra to folks, right? A grave moral wrong is when priests molest kids and the church helps them get away with it.
Churches also do massive humanitarian work... work that the government doesn't need to be doing. Help has always come from Churches and neighbors... long before government decided to be nursemaid.
Yeah, because abortion and unwanted children are a much better moral choice and it's always good to deny a woman the ability to have hormone treatment for things like irregular periods, ovarian cysts and other diseases that are treated by contraceptives. What a bunch of morally corrupt, selfish slobs.
If an exemption is allowed on the grounds of belief, then that opens the door to other forms of exemption – such as being allowed to dictate that an individual's tax dollars must not be used to fund any part of the military or a particular military action or military research because of a sincerely held belief – you can imagine the rest. Millions of different objections that must all be accommodated, to the detriment of others.
If you want "free" birth control, go work for a non-religious organization that doesn't have objections. If you're dumb enough to work for an organization that has beliefs contrary to your own, you're not very bright.
Medicine Man... how about the government doesn't force us to buy anything
Are the Amish and Mennonites signing up?
I once was an employee of Little Sisters of the Poor some years ago and I am not Catholic. Not being Catholic I don't subscribe to the religious teachings of the Catholic church but have my own religious or spiritual beliefs. So, if I believe I need contraceptive services should I be forced to go outside the company insurance plan to obtain such services? What if I am a woman and decide I need my tubes tied to prevent having more children or a vasectomy to prevent impregnating any woman, is the Catholic church run organization like Little Sisters of the Poor or Hobby Lobby going to deny my decision because it does not suit their religious belief? My point is, where do you draw the line between what I believe to be right for me as oppose to what is right for you? ALL procedures should be allowed to be covered. If not, then your company or organization should be out of the insurance business and leave the individual to find their own insurance coverage for now until single payer programs are established. There should be universal health care coverage for all who need it regardless of religious belief and it needs to be paid for by all of us through higher taxes like the 33 other industrialized countries of the world pay, and they love it!
I thought that the ACA was a law. How can Obama change laws at a whim?
How can Obama change MANY laws on a whim?
I'm glad the Supreme Court finally put their robes on and made a decision yesterday. My belief is that the Supreme Court set O-tax up to fail by allowing it to proceed as a tax. Remember, O chastised them during a State of the Union speech and this is all likely their revenge. The SCJs are much smarter than any politician or political party. I hope my beliefs are true.
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.
Why would the administration of ACA have to make exception for the Sisters? I am sure that the added costs for these parts would be very small. The piousness of the Catholic church is obstructing a very important effort to reduce the number of unwanted births regardless of the use of contraception by most Catholics. In a world that is straining the resources of our planets advocating against contraception is wrongful.
All revenue/taxes are to originate in the House of Representatives and not the Senate as Obamacare (ACA) did. Hence the law is literally UNCONSTITUTIONAL.
The rules should be the same for all. Liberty and justice FOR ALL, I believe it is supposed to be? Now that she has made this precedent for her Catholic friends, ALL religions will demand it. THIS IS WRONG. If the FDA has approved the drug and pharmacies carry them, there is no reason, although I would have no interest in having it, for people not to have equal access to this chemical pharmaceutical. Let her support the children made that these parents are not able or willing to support.
@California: "All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills."
The ACA was not intended to raise revenue in any explicit way. The penalty/tax is a byproduct of people's unwillingness to have adequate healthcare.
"...Obama's signature diplomatic achievement..."
This is not a "diplomatic achievement." Diplomacy involves two parties making an agreement – Democrats did this all by themselves, remember that. And as far as calling it an "achievement," botching up 1/6th of the US economy to pay off insurance companies and zero-information welfare voters is hardly an "achievement."
Obama had no problem exempting himself, his family, Congressmen, select cronies and unions from Obamacare but when religious groups want it - he's a model of "You MUST obey my law!"
What a dishonest, hypocritical man!