Supreme Court Justice Halts Birth Control Mandate For Catholic Group

Supreme Court Justice Halts Birth Control Mandate For Catholic Group

WASHINGTON, D.C. — (Mealey’s) U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Dec. 31 temporarily blocked the federal government from enforcing the birth control mandate contained in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) against an order of Catholic nuns at the request of the group after a lower court denied a motion for a preliminary injunction in a case challenging the mandate (Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, et al. v. Kathleen Sebelius, et al., No. 13A691, U.S. Sup.). 

(Order available.  Document #31-140108-036R.) 

Injunction Denied 

The birth control mandate requires all group health plans and health insurance issuers that offer non-grandfathered group or individual health coverage to provide coverage for certain preventive services without cost-sharing, including, “all Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for women with reproductive capacity.” 

Certain exemptions exist for religious employers.  Nonprofit religious organizations that do not qualify for the exemption may qualify for an accommodation.  Under the accommodation, a nonprofit religious organization can self-certify to its health insurance issuer that it has a religious objection to providing coverage for contraceptive services as part of its health insurance plan.  Once the issuer receives the self-certification, the nonprofit organization is exempt from the mandate.  The organization’s employees will receive coverage for contraceptive services, but that coverage will be provided directly through the issuer.  The coverage is excluded from the employer’s plan of benefits, and the issuer assumes the full costs of coverage and is prohibited from charging any co-payments, deductibles, fees, premium hikes or other costs to the organization for its employees. 

After plaintiffs in Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, et al. v. Kathleen Sebelius, et al. (No. 13-2611, D. Colo. [enhanced opinion available to lexis.com subscribers]) on Dec. 27 were denied a preliminary injunction by the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, on Dec. 31, they asked Justice Sotomayor for an injunction pending appellate review. 

Temporary Halt 

In a two-sentence order, Justice Sotomayor temporarily enjoined the federal government from enforcing the mandate and related regulations against the plaintiffs. The ruling applies to Little Sisters and more than 200 other faith-based groups that use insurance offered by Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust. The government has until 10 a.m. Jan. 3 to respond. 

Mark Rienzi, Daniel Blomberg and Adele Keim of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C., Carl C. Scherz and Seth Roberts of Locke Lord in Dallas and Kevin C. Walsh of University of Richmond School of Law in Richmond, Va., represent the plaintiffs. Assistant Attorney General Stuart F. Delery, U.S. Attorney General John F. Walsh, Director Jennifer Ricketts, Deputy Director Sheila M. Lieber and Michelle R. Bennett, all of the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, represent the government. 

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