The fight over a contraception rule tied to Obamacare has religious liberty advocates and women’s health groups at loggerheads over a simple act: What does it mean when a group of Colorado nuns signs a release form?
A Denver chapter of the Little Sisters of the Poor says the document is an unacceptable outcome. It would authorize other people, over the nuns’ moral objections, to provide birth control services to employees of their nursing facility for the aged.
“The sisters simply can’t be part of it,” Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said on Fox News Sunday.
The Obama administration says the form does just the opposite by allowing religious groups to wash their hands of coverage and assertively proclaim objections to artificial birth control, including the morning-after pills that some people equate to abortion.
The case, the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Sebelius, is just the latest front in the yearslong battle over the contraceptive rule that President Obama issued in the wake of the 2010 law. According to the administration, the law requires large employers, as part of their group health care plans, to insure all contraception drugs, devices and services approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The sisters’ plight is being portrayed as a David-versus-Goliath fight between big government and a group of nuns who aid the sick and dying.
“In a sign that the White House will stop at nothing to save its unpopular and unworkable health care law, now they’re working to silence a group of nuns in Colorado who object to the Obamacare mandate requiring coverage of contraceptive services,” Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said over the weekend. “It’s an absurd new low for this mandate-happy administration and an unacceptable affront to religious freedoms and fidelity.”
The nation's highest court is set to hear arguments this term on a pair of challenges to the administrative rule from for-profit businesses that say the rule violates the religious beliefs of the company owners. The case will test the ability of corporate entities to cite religious protections in seeking carve-outs from government mandates.
Houses of worship are exempt from the contraception mandate, while faith-based nonprofits such as hospitals and universities are eligible for an accommodation that lets them cite religious objections to the rule. From there, an insurer or third-party administrator would manage and pay for the coverage.
Many religious groups have said the compromise still would make employers complicit in directing someone else to insure and provide birth control for their employees.
That’s where the nuns come in.
Advocates for the Little Sisters applauded Justice Sotomayor’s eleventh-hour order Tuesday to temporarily block the contraception mandate, granting an injunction that protects the nuns from the rule while the case unfolds in the federal appeals courts.
The Justice Department fought back Friday morning, filing papers that say no employees at the sisters’ nursing home are about to obtain contraceptives without paying for it on their own.
The sisters’ charity gets insurance services from the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, a religiously affiliated administrator that is not required to provide contraceptive coverage, according to papers Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. filed with the high court.