December 31st, 2013
10:24 PM ET
4 months ago

Court delays Obamacare contraception mandate for 2 nonprofits

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.


Filed under: Obamacare • Supreme Court
soundoff (112 Responses)
  1. sonnie3

    This obama care fiasco is in a downward free fall. It is just to massive and Government has no business mandating the health tax. The exemptions should be none. And obama himself and congress should be under their laws and no dammm subsidies. What good for the goose is good for the gander.

    January 1, 2014 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  2. sonnie3

    Bottom line is the majority of Americans do not approve of the liberal obama caree program.

    January 1, 2014 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  3. John/kc

    How about the churches paying taxes like the rest of us taxpayers. Why are these religious institutions tax exempt while I and the rest of us working taxpayers and corporations must pay our tax bills and that of these holy rollers? How about some equal protection under the law!

    January 1, 2014 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  4. Jan Carter

    I just don't understand how the Church can get involved. The Catholic Church has never spoken from God in regards to Birth Control. The following is from a theologian and no one ever prints any of this. It is a paper called HUMANAE VITAE AND INFALLIBITY
    Why two sizable volumes on the authority of Humanae Vitae? According to Fr. Lio, the problem has been that many in the Church have been maintaining that the Encyclical, although an authentic exercise of the Magisterium, should not be seen as binding on Catholic consciences, and much less as an infallible and irreformable pronouncement. The first of his two books in this series from the Vatican publishing house was written with the intention of responding to the first of these two positions, while the new – (and larger) – work sets out to answer the second – that which sees Humanae Vitae as non-infallible and subject to change by some future Pope.

    January 1, 2014 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  5. maytrix

    I agree with John/jc. The church and non-taxpayers should not have a vote. We should vote with our tax returns. If you don't financially support your government the you should not vote.

    January 1, 2014 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  6. Andrew M

    This is an impossible ruling. How can you exempt an organization from being forced to "pay" for something when the net result is overall savings?

    So, yes, they shouldn't be forced to pay for actual contraceptives, but then they should have to pay MORE, since pre-natal, delivery, etc. all outstrips the cost of contraception. Those additional funds could be used to provide non-Catholics with Catholic employers (or Catholics who are making their own choice about it, or Catholics who need "birth control" pills for non-reproductive therapeutic use). Whoops, we're right back where we started.

    Since birth control, in the larger scheme, is a NEGATIVE cost, the argument that these organizations are being forced to "subsidize" anything falls short.

    January 1, 2014 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  7. Jan

    The working loose insurance. The non working gain insurance. Robin Hood????

    January 1, 2014 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  8. mutantsubhuman

    The Amish and Mennonites are now going to claim their income taxes cannot be used for war.

    January 1, 2014 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  9. Mary1972

    When the church starts paying taxes like us common folks, let them participate in the political process.

    January 1, 2014 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  10. Crystal

    They just keep on delaying everything. I'm not even sure what the point is.

    January 1, 2014 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  11. Mark

    Contraception should be celebrated by those who complain about large families absorbing government welfare.

    Cults like the Catholic Church need to be ridiculed, humiliated, shamed and punished more aggressively than ever before, because they are not disappearing fast enough. The CC pollutes the world with needless babies and HIV with this anti-contraceptives nonsense, and they should be as accountable for their faulty medical advice as any quack doctor who lies to patients for a living.

    January 1, 2014 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  12. are122

    Sotomayor was one of the clowns that supported taxing US for something we may not want, buy or use. Maybe she has a bit of remorse.

    January 1, 2014 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  13. Al

    If you work for a religious company, like Chick Fil a, or Hobby Lobby they you must accept that you as a female will have to pay for your own birth control. I'm sure that if you really want to not have children you will buy it and use it.

    Now on the opposite hand if you collect welfare, and have say your check is 700.00 and you choose to breed when to off spring pops out, your tax payer funded check should drop to 600. and if you have two more kids then it should drop 200. This might discourage breeding if you can't support your litter. And all other programs should lock doors and not increase any tax payer funds to offset what should be a mandatory decrease in handouts for breeding when you can't support the child. But the companies that have proven themselves to be based on religious grounds should be exempt just like unions who did support the ACA and now don't want to play. Or Big Business.

    January 1, 2014 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  14. Dar

    Maybe the ones that don't want to provide this insurance should simply stop providing their employees with employer paid insurance and take the federal penalty instead. Companies don't have to provide insurance to their employees.
    Then the churches would not be doing something against their beliefs. They could leave it up to the people to have what they want............Win, Win Right??

    January 2, 2014 03:40 am at 3:40 am |
  15. LakeRat1

    What about the religious beliefs of the employees? If these "religious" organizations want to employ people, their beliefs should not interfere with the employees' well being.

    January 2, 2014 06:03 am at 6:03 am |
  16. Grandma of Four

    Keeping my fingers crossed!
    306 days and counting until Tuesday, November 4. 2014 when the American voter can go to the polls and express their complete mistrust and disgust in "O"BLAME"R", Harry, Nancy, the rest of the Dems, Libs, Valerie Jarrett, The Emanuel brothers, and the MIT expert not to mention the potential of Hillary! The list just goes on and on and on! And, YES, I do know it is a midterm election! :-) AND….quite possibly, one of the most important Mid Term Elections in recent history!!!

    January 2, 2014 07:44 am at 7:44 am |
  17. memo2

    Just can't believe how the Supreme Court aloud or pass Obama Care and never oversee all the documents.

    January 2, 2014 07:46 am at 7:46 am |
  18. bens772

    No problem for our beloved Dictator. He'll just pull his Chicago strong arm tactics.

    January 2, 2014 07:50 am at 7:50 am |
  19. memo2

    Obama Care just been for harassing and intimidating people.

    January 2, 2014 07:54 am at 7:54 am |
  20. memo2

    Stop changing it.

    January 2, 2014 07:55 am at 7:55 am |
  21. bob kimmy

    Obama has lied to this country about Obama care ! Its not affordable, nor does it have good coverage... Also he has opened the flood gates for immagrants coming into this country, which will raise unemployment, and raise the us debt higher. Hes sinking this country ! !

    January 2, 2014 08:12 am at 8:12 am |
  22. AlgoreLies

    exemptions? exemptions???
    we don' neeed no stieenken' exemptions!!
    wonderful, the "let's pass it to see what is in it" philosophy of Monster Pelousy strikes again.
    My lawyer just got me exemption from this stupid mandate: My religious beliefs do not permit me to be a stupid person.
    Seriously, I got off this stupid law. Respond to me and I will give you my lawyer's info.

    January 2, 2014 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  23. ncwriter

    good – this is equivalent for mandating that a Muslim eat bacon or that a vegetarian consume a steak. It is a personal moral thing and therefore the government has no business being involved.

    Don't like it? Don't work for these religious groups.

    January 2, 2014 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  24. rdavis

    Maytrix: By your logic, that means that welfare recipients shouldn't have a vote either.

    January 2, 2014 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  25. 2L

    Kudos to Justice Sotomayor!! Well done!! I'm a Democrat, but I do believe this also infringes on religious right.

    January 2, 2014 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
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