Just as President Obama’s landmark healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act, was picking up steam with enrollments of over 1 million in December, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor singularly wrote an opinion which temporarily halted the Affordable Care Act from requiring religious based organizations from having to provide contraceptives to their employees. On December 31, Justice Sotomayor, based on appeal from, Little Sisters of the Poor in Denver, granted a temporary reprieve. She also gave the Obama Administration until Friday, January 3 to respond. The Supreme Court assigns justices to various jurisdictions and Justice Sotomayor was assigned to the 10th Circuit jurisdiction, from which the case was appealed from.
At the heart of it are two other cases headed to argument before the Supreme Court, is the issue of whether religious based organizations should be required to provide contraceptives to their employees as it infringes on their freedom of religion. Churches and houses of worship are already exempt under the law from having to provide contraceptives. Justice Sotomayor, appointed by President Obama, is also Catholic. The mandate of the Affordable Care Act begins January 1, 2014. Many more lawsuits have been filed in state federal courts. This means these religious affiliate organizations without a stay would be required under the law to provide contraceptives pending a ruling. Many federal courts had provided a temporary reprieve to some religious based affiliate organizations.
And the opinion written by Justice Sotomayor stings all the more for the Obama Administration. And it probably signals the future of what might be expected from the full Supreme Court following oral arguments on the cases before it. Nearly 100 non-profit or profit companies with a religious affiliation have filed law suits or protested against the contraceptive requirement. Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged in Denver which sought the last minute, last ditch relief could have faced serious monetary fines beginning on January 1, 2014.
If the Supreme Court ultimately, after hearing arguments on the two cases before it, decides to halt the Administration from requiring contraceptives to these employees based on religious beliefs, it would signal a defeat for women. Most women in their adult life have used some form of contraceptives, at some time in their life. Those women employed by these religious affiliate institutions would be stripped of their now right to be covered under the plan for contraceptives.
Shock and insult are probably the words that the Obama Administration would be likely thinking about on this topic. At issue on the cases before the Court are the right to religious beliefs for nonprofits and profit organizations asserting a religious affiliation versus the right of the government to mandate health coverage insurance and contraceptives includes health coverage for all women. The religious based or affiliate groups must show that the contraceptives mandate places a “substantial burden” on their religious freedom. Some judges do not believe they can meet their burden.
“The White House on Wednesday issued a statement saying that the administration is confident that its rules “strike the balance of providing women with free contraceptive coverage while preventing non-profit religious organizations with religious objections to contraceptive coverage from having to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for such coverage.”