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.
"providing women with free contraceptive coverage"
Its not free. Other people pay for it. But then again who would expect anything less then women expecting other people to pick up their tab and the Dems willing to do so with other people's money.
Obamacare is destroying America and everyone is letting it happen because they just want yet another handout from the government to keep them subjugated.
This is stupid. These organizations are fine with their employees purchasing contraception with their own money, but not with their own benefits. Health insurance is a benefit. Part of your salary. As such, you are paying for contraception with your own money.
The mandate does not in any way infringe on anyone's religious rights. No person has the right to impose their religious restrictions on another person. If you don't believe in contraception you have every right not to use it. You have no right whatsoever to dictate whether or not other people use it or spend their own money, for example, the health insurance premiums that are deducted from their paycheck.
I object to providing any health benefits to any employee who is or may become pregnant out of wedlock so I do not have to "become complicit in a grave moral wrong". Let's add to that list people who are divorced, homosexual, the sinners that eat shellfish (abomination), and most especially those that work on the Sabbath. After all, the federal government is interferring with my religious liberty.
Oh, and I am also willing to give up my tax exempt, non-profit status.......yeah, right. Give me a break.
Leave those churches/companies alone that object to paying for birth control. It isn't that expensive that a working person can't pay for it if they want. I paid for my own. Most insurance companies have never covered birth control.
I am shocked but elated as well. She is and Obama butt kisser from the get go but she knows the law & the law is you cannot make someone take this insurance if it goes against your religious teachings, You cannot make the Catholic church or any other church except this socialist healthcare. All of the Arch Diocese filed a law suit against this healthcare plan last year not just a few.
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of Secular Humanism.
You MUST embrace with ALL your heart
EVERY possible form of depravity.
WE are SMARTER than God Himself
just ask us.... WE will be happy to TELL you.
WE know "Hate Speech" when WE see it.
The Bible is full of it...
WE know best.
universal healthcare for all
The Catholic church is all for socialized "single payer" healthcare, until the socialized "single payer" rules come down. Then suddenly the current system allowing freedom of choice doesn't seem so bad.
Just because something is made available to all, does not mean that an individual is required to take it. If taking free contraceptive medication is a violation of a person's religious beliefs, that person should not ask for the prescription. What is the problem here? Is taking personal responsibility for one's actions compromised in any way?
It is time for all religious organizations, churches, temples,mosques to start paying taxes. Ridiculous that these organizations benefit from tax fee status whilst acquiring wealth through donations, desirable property appreciation in locations that could be better used for real human improvement . Then the.government can provide the insurance to women in need. How dare these "sisters" ignore their self interest and those they are serving in a God's name so some men can continue centuries of control over women's bodies. Shame on you Sis! Bring on the "nuns on a bus"