U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Tuesday granted an Obamacare exemption to an order of Catholic nuns protesting the requirement for employer group plans to cover contraceptive medicine.
The order came just hours before the official start to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate this year, requiring Americans to carry health care insurance or pay a tax. Sotomayor ruled the group of Colorado nuns suing the government would be permitted an exemption from the rule until the Supreme Court examines the case this year.
Under new federal administrative regulations, large employers must offer medical policies covering birth control, including the controversial “morning-after” pill. Congressional Republicans continue to support some aspects of the new federal health law but vehemently oppose individual mandates, which some religious groups say would violate their beliefs.
Sotomayor’s order applies only to the group suing the government and doesn’t change the law’s requirement for other “large employers.” Yet some analysts said the decision — from a liberal justice — indicates a willingness on the part of the court to hear arguments based on religious discrimination.
Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious LIberty, told MSNBC his clients find the contraceptive requirement a substantial burden on religion. “They’re saying, ‘I can’t fill out permission slips for abortion, sterilization, or contraception under any circumstances.’” Although emergency contraception is not classified scientifically as an abortion, some Catholic and evangelical Christians claim otherwise.
By the time the requirement became official on New Year’s, 19 of 20 groups who’d sued against the mandate had been granted temporary exemptions. Indeed, many Democrats on Capitol Hill appear content to move slower on the law’s mandates. Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., has supported a one-year postponement of the birth control mandate, calling 2014 a “transitional year” for the ACA.
Howard Dean, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, says he considers the mandate inconsequential but potentially damaging in upcoming midterm elections, as Republicans try to grab seats.