On New Year's Eve, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a stay that temporarily blocked the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act from applying to religious-affiliated organizations. A group of nuns from Colorado called the Little Sisters of the Poor had asked for the delay because they object to the law's contraception requirements.
"We are delighted that the Supreme Court has issued this order protecting the Little Sisters," said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the nuns. "The government has lots of ways to deliver contraceptives to people – it doesn't need to force nuns to participate."
Under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, religious-affiliated organizations do not have to provide contraception to their employees, but they do need to sign a form affirming their objection, which then forces the insurer or an outside health plan administrator to provide separate birth control coverage. The Justice Department responded to Sotomayor's stay by saying that this opt-out provision is sufficient enough protection for religious organizations.
"With the stroke of their own pen, applicants can secure for themselves the relief they seek from this Court – an exemption from the requirements of the contraceptive-coverage provision," the U.S. Solicitor General wrote in a motion filed last Friday. The nuns contend that even signing a form stating their objection would result in employees obtaining contraceptive coverage, indirectly making the nuns responsible for such coverage.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the administration believes that the Supreme Court will eventually uphold the contraception mandate in its current form. "We believe this requirement is lawful and essential to women's health and are confident the Supreme Court will agree," he said. It is unclear when the court will rule on whether the stay will remain in place. The stay does not apply to for-profit businesses, such as Hobby Lobby, that also object to the health care law's contraception requirement.
So do the Little Sisters of the Poor have a case against Obamacare? Here is the Debate Club's take:
Penny Nance President and CEO of Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee
Mary Ann Walsh Sister of Mercy of the Americas and Director of Media Relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Dana Singiser Vice President of Public Policy for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Leslie Griffin Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas