Late Tuesday, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor blocked a portion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that would require religious organizations to provide health insurance that covers birth control.
Before she pushed the button on the Times Square New Year’s Eve ball and hours before the law would have taken effect, Sotomayor yielded to a request from a Denver Catholic group, the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged.
By her order, the government is "temporarily enjoined from enforcing against applicants the contraceptive coverage requirements imposed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”
Government officials have until 10 a.m. on Friday to respond to the order.
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The group’s lead counsel, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said the Little Sisters of the Poor are delighted by Sotomayor's order. A federal appeals court denied a stay from the group earlier in the year.
"The government has lots of ways to deliver contraceptives to people," Emily Hardman said in a statement. "It doesn't need to force nuns to participate."
The group of nuns who run the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged say that signing a form to authorize their insurance provider to give contraceptive coverage is in violation of their religious beliefs, argued their attorney, Mark Rienzi.
"Without an emergency injunction, Mother Provincial Loraine Marie Maguire has to decide between two courses of action: (a) sign and submit a self-certification form, thereby violating her religious beliefs; or (b) refuse to sign the form and pay ruinous fines," Rienzi said.
The Supreme Court has yet to rule on an appeal from arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby, Inc., which wants to an exemption from providing birth control coverage on employee health policies based on the company’s religious beliefs. That case will be argued in March.