Supreme Court delays contraceptive mandate enforcement for Catholic nuns

A U.S. Supreme Court order issued Friday gave Catholic nuns who run nursing homes in Denver a temporary reprieve from complying with Affordable Care Act requirements to offer insurance benefits for contraceptives.

The high court ruled that the Little Sisters of the Poor need not complete a government-issued request form nor send an opt-out notice to their insurers. Instead, the Catholic nuns must write to the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, saying they are a nonprofit religious organization that has religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services, the order states.

Then the nuns--along with two other religious health benefit providers that joined the lawsuit--will be exempt from complying with the contraceptive mandate pending the outcome of their case before the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Politico reported.

"This order grants all the protection that the Little Sisters of the Poor and the other organizations in the case need while the courts are deciding their case," the nuns' attorney Kevin Walsh told Politico. "We are happy to satisfy the condition in the Supreme Court's order."

The high court wrote that its order "should not be construed as an expression of the Court's views on the merits" of the nuns' case. The Department of Justice emphasized this point in its response to the order, adding that "plaintiffs have always been eligible for an accommodation from the contraceptive coverage requirement," Politico noted. The DOJ previously said the Little Sisters' objections to the contraceptive mandate had no legal basis.

Hours before the contraceptive mandate took effect, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a temporary injunction against its enforcement for the sisters and more than 200 faith-based groups, as FierceHealthPayer reported.

If the high court denies the nuns' pending appeal, it will have yet to agree to hear a nonprofit religious organization's challenge to contraceptive coverage requirements, Politico noted. However, the Supreme Court is slated to consider two cases focusing on whether employers can opt out of the contraceptive mandate on religious grounds later this year.

For more:
- see the Politico article
- read the Supreme Court order (.pdf)