White House Defends Contraception Mandate for Religious Group

Image: White House Defends Contraception Mandate for Religious Group

Thursday, 02 Jan 2014 10:51 AM

By Melanie Batley

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The Obama administration is defending the Obamacare contraception mandate for religiously-affiliated groups despite a court-ordered temporary reprieve given to a Baltimore-based religious organization.

"We defer to the Department of Justice on litigation matters, but remain confident that our final rules strike the balance of providing women with free contraceptive coverage while preventing non-profit religious employers with religious objections to contraceptive coverage from having to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for such coverage," a White House official said, according to Politico.

Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, a religious order that operates homes for the elderly, argued that the current regulations go against its religious faith and therefore the group should be exempt from providing contraceptive benefits to employees.

Churches are already exempt from the mandate, but religiously-affiliated employers and non-profits must self-certify to obtain exemption from providing contraceptive coverage in employee health plans. In those cases, however, the government circumvented the exemption by authorizing insurance providers to offer contraceptive coverage by acting as third party administrators.

Little Sisters, which provides a self-insured church health plan, objects to self-certifying, arguing the current rules are akin to authorizing health plans to provide contraceptive coverage even if the home isn't doing so directly, according to Politico.

Little Sisters issued a statement praising the court's decision.

"We are grateful for the decision of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor granting us a temporary injunction protecting us from the HHS contraceptive mandate," the nuns said, according to Reuters.

"We hope and pray that we will receive a favorable outcome in order to continue to serve the elderly of all faiths with the same community support and religious freedom that we have already appreciated."

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty which filed the case on the group's behalf also responded to the ruling. "We are delighted that the Supreme Court has issued this order protecting the Little Sisters," Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund, said. "The government has lots of ways to deliver contraceptives to people — it doesn't need to force nuns to participate."

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor gave the organization a temporary New Year's Eve reprieve, suspending the group's obligation to comply with the law by Jan. 1 which would otherwise carry a heavy fine. The Justice Department is required to respond by 10:00 a.m. on Friday, according to Politico.

A number of other similar cases are pending at the high court after two different appellate courts had granted stays for various organizations, including Catholic University of America and non-profits in Michigan and Tennessee, Reuters reports.

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