Policy: Law

DOJ: Nuns have 'no legal basis' to contest birth control mandate

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Politics,White House,Brian Hughes,Supreme Court,Health Care,PennAve,Justice Department,Law,Contraception

The Justice Department on Friday urged Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to stop blocking the Obamacare mandate forcing organizations to provide insurance plans that include contraceptives, arguing that a religious group contesting the law did not have a complaint.

Just before Jan. 1, Sotomayor issued an injunction on behalf of Catholic nuns in Colorado who objected to the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act, claiming it violates their religious beliefs.

Her decision at least temporarily exempts the Colorado group from the mandate in lieu of a more far-reaching Supreme Court decision on the contraception rules.

The Justice Department, however, argued that the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged had options that would allow them to avoid paying for contraceptives and that the law already provided exemptions for such religiously-affiliated organizations.

“Applicants have no legal basis to challenge the self-certification requirement or to complain that it involves them in the process of providing contraceptive coverage," the Justice Department said in a response filed by Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr.

“As both of the lower courts recognized, this case involves a church plan that is exempt from regulation under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974,” the response added.

“Employer-applicants’ third-party administrator therefore will be under no legal obligation to provide the coverage after applicants certify that they object to providing it.”

The nuns would merely need to self-certify that they are a religiously exempt group, the DOJ said.

The Colorado nuns, however, say that self-certifying would violate their religious views, and force them to allow individuals to still access contraceptives from other sources.

Sotomayor’s last-second decision came just hours before the provision of the Affordable Care Act was slated to go into effect on Jan. 1.

The justice will now decide how to respond to the Obama administration's brief and could potentially refer the issue to the full Supreme Court.

The White House earlier this week insisted that the birth control mandate struck the right “balance,” pointing out existing exemptions for churches and religious nonprofits.

The Supreme Court in March will hear a broader challenge to the contraception mandate from private companies that argue the law violates their religious freedoms.

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