The Supreme Court has thrown a hitch into President Barack Obama’s new health care law by blocking a requirement that some religion-affiliated organizations provide health insurance that includes birth control.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor late Tuesday decided to block implementation of the contraceptive coverage requirement, only hours before the law’s insurance coverage went into effect New Year’s Day.
Her decision, which came after federal court filings by Catholic-affiliated groups from around the nation in hopes of delaying the requirements, throws a part of the president’s signature law into temporary disarray. At least one federal appeals court agreed with Sotomayor, issuing its own stay against part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
The White House issued a statement Wednesday, saying that the administration is confident that its rules “strike the balance of providing women with free contraceptive coverage while preventing nonprofit religious organizations with religious objections to contraceptive coverage from having to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for such coverage.”
Sotomayor acted on a request from a group of Catholic nuns in Denver, the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged. Its request for an emergency stay had been denied earlier in the day by a federal appeals court.
The government is “temporarily enjoined from enforcing against applicants the contraceptive coverage requirements imposed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” Sotomayor said in the order.
Sotomayor, who was in New York on Tuesday night to lead the final 60-second countdown and push the ceremonial button to signal the descent of the Times Square New Year’s Eve ball, gave government officials until 10 a.m. Friday to respond to her order. A decision on whether to make the temporary injunction permanent or dissolve it likely won’t be made before then.
“The government has lots of ways to deliver contraceptives to people,” said Mark Rienzi, a lawyer for the nuns. “It doesn’t need to force nuns to participate.”
Under the law, most health insurance plans have to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives as preventive care for women. That means the coverage is provided free of charge.
Churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the birth-control requirement, but affiliated institutions that serve the general public are not. That includes charitable groups, universities and hospitals.