Federal appellate court grants nuns temporary reprieve from birth control mandate
By NBP Staff | August 24, 2015, 7:31 EDT
Denver — On Friday a group of Roman Catholic nuns won a temporary reprieve from the controversial contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act. The August 21 ruling by the en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit means that the Little Sister of the Poor, a group of female religious dedicated to serving the elderly poor and dying, are exempt from the mandate and will not have to pay fines for failing to comply until a final decision on their case is rendered.
Under the mandate, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services in January 2014, all employer health plans must provide coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-inducing drugs.
The Little Sisters of the Poor operate group homes for the elderly poor in 18 U.S. cities, including Somerville, Massachusetts. They argue that the government cannot force them to authorize the provision of drugs or services that violate the religious teachings of the Catholic Church.
In the 2014 case of Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, the Supreme Court held that the contraceptive mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act with respect to closely-held family businesses.
Under an accommodation offered by HHS, religious organizations do not have to pay for coverage of contraception or abortion-inducing drugs themselves, but they are required to authorize the insurer or health plan administrator to provide separate coverage. The Justice Department claims that this opt-out provision is sufficient to protect religious groups from violating their sincerely held beliefs.
The Catholic nuns argue that this accommodation still requires them to violate the Church’s teachings.
In July, a panel of the 10th Circuit rejected the request by the Little Sisters of the Poor for a religious exemption. Friday’s ruling by the entire 10th Circuit court of appeals stays the original panel’s order at least until the Supreme Court decides whether to hear the nuns’ appeal. If the high court takes the case, the reprieve will remain in effect until the court issues its final ruling.