The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday granted a sisterhood of Roman Catholic nuns in Colorado a temporary reprieve from certain provisions of President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare reform policy that would require them to either offer birth control to their employees or sign a form declaring themselves as a religious organisation entitled to exemption from this requirement.
In the latest development in the long-standing squabbles over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) the Supreme Court allowed the Little Sisters of the Poor, based in Denver, and a Catholic benefits administrator, Christian Brothers Services, to simply write to the Department of Health and Human Services declaring themselves a religious non-profit organisation and make their objection to birth control.
Once they did so, the Court said, it would allow the nuns to ignore the ACA requirement that they provide contraceptives as preventive care for women, free of cost to the patient.
The latest compromise comes after Supreme Court Justice and Obama appointee Sonia Sotomayor granted a temporary injunction on New Year’s Eve that would “protect the nuns from significant fines when the ACA took effect on January 1 2014.”
At the time lawyers for the nuns collective had argued that the ACA compromise on this matter, requiring objecting organisations to certify that they objected to providing contraceptives to their employees on religious grounds, “did not effectively insulate the nuns from the mandated contraceptives,” and they still considered themselves being forced to provide contraceptives that they considered immoral, through an authorised third party.
With government attorneys rebutting that the compromise solution offered by the ACA effectively neutralised any religious objections, the Supreme Court noted that its decision to extend the injunction this week was “based on all the circumstances of the case,” and that the action “should not be construed as an expression of the Court’s views on the merits [of the broader case].”
The ACA passed in the U.S. Congress narrowly in early 2010, following which legal wrangling across U.S. states, particularly those with Republican administrations, has plagued its eventual rollout.
Although Mr. Obama’s healthcare reform package received a strong stamp of approval from a June 2012 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that upheld its legality, the rollout of the new health insurance policies on October 1, 2013 was widely considered to have been botched, with the enrolment website, healthcare.gov, virtually collapsing as people tried to sign on.