Nuns get partial win in Supreme Court contraception fight

WASHINGTON Fri Jan 24, 2014 6:58pm EST

A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington December 3, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington December 3, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court said on Friday that, while litigation continues, an order of Roman Catholic nuns need not comply with a part of President Barack Obama's healthcare law requiring employers to provide insurance that covers contraception.

In the latest skirmish over religious objections to providing government-mandated contraception, the four-sentence court order was a partial victory for the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Baltimore-based order of nuns that runs nursing homes, and Illinois-based Christian Brothers Services, which manages healthcare plans for Catholic groups.

The unusually worded order by the court did impose a requirement on the groups before they can claim the exemption. First, they must send written notification to the Department of Health and Human Services saying they object to the contraception mandate.

The court's decision means that, as long as the groups send the letters, they are effectively exempt while litigation continues in lower courts, putting off for now any conclusive decision on this latest legal test of Obamacare, as the president's 2010 Affordable Care Act has become known.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the groups, hailed the court's order as a victory.

"We are delighted that the Supreme Court has issued this order protecting the Little Sisters," attorney Mark Rienzi said in a statement. "The government has lots of ways to deliver contraceptives to people - it doesn't need to force nuns to participate."

The U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

'PAPERWORK, NOT RELIGIOUS LIBERTY'

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which supports the mandate, said in a statement that the case focused only on the way that groups like the Little Sisters can claim an exemption.

"This is a case about paperwork, not religious liberty," she said.

Dozens of other Catholic groups are involved in similar litigation across the country. Most have already won temporary injunctions. So far, no federal appeals court has ruled on the merits of the groups' claims, according to the Becket Fund.

The organizations accuse the federal government of forcing them to support contraception and sterilization in violation of their religious beliefs, or face steep fines.

The Little Sisters lawsuit was filed also on behalf of hundreds of other groups that obtain benefits via Christian Brothers Services, although that has not been certified as a class-action at this stage. The Becket Fund say they would also benefit from the court's order.

The unsigned Supreme Court order said it "should not be construed as an expression of the court's views on the merits."

OBAMACARE'S MANDATE

The Obamacare law requires employers to provide health insurance policies that cover preventive services for women, including contraception and sterilization.

The act makes an exception for religious institutions such as houses of worship that mainly serve and employ members of their own faith, but not for schools, hospitals and charitable organizations that employ people of all faiths.

As a compromise, the administration agreed to an accommodation for non-profits affiliated with religious entities that was finalized in July. But the Little Sisters and other Catholic groups said the compromise process still violated their religious rights.

In court filings, the government had conceded it could not enforce the mandate against the Little Sisters in any case because of the nature of their health-care plan.

A federal judge in Colorado, William Martinez, denied the plaintiffs' request for an injunction on Dec 27. The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals followed suit on December 31, prompting a last-minute plea to the Supreme Court.

Although Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a temporary injunction on December 31, the court then spent more than three weeks weighing how to proceed.

In separate cases, the Supreme Court has already agreed to hear oral arguments in March on whether for-profit corporations can object to the contraception mandate on religious grounds.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Gunna Dickson)

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Comments (2)
PaulBradley wrote:
Actually, every nun is married and, sometimes, she has sex albeit NOT with her ‘husband’!

The following is just a small part of “A Nun’s Testimony” by
Sister Charlotte Keckler (http://www.biblebelievers.org.au/nun.htm):

The room was bare except for the inevitable statue of the Virgin Mary. The priest perched in a straight-backed chair and the nun must come in and kneel before him. If she got out without being defiled and forced into some unspeakable depravity she was fortunate. No one ever interrupted the priest and the woman, no matter what transpired. One after another the nuns would enter and leave the room.

At other times it was not unusual for the Mother Superior to usher in a drunken priest who would pick out a nun and take her to a cell with him for more liquor and sex. The Mother Superior was a hard and carnal woman who had borne numbers of illegitimate children of priests and usually she drank with the visitors. The priest was well fed, healthy, and strong and lived a relatively easy life; therefore a poor, weakened nun was no match for him, to fight him off. Because she was helpless, he did whatever he pleased and violated her any way he chose. There is no one to defend or help her and none to even care about her being forced into harlotry. Because Mother Superior locked the cell there was no way to escape.

In view of the above, I think nuns DO need access to free contraception . . . :-)

Jan 24, 2014 5:28pm EST  --  Report as abuse
herbxerx wrote:
PaulBradley wrote: “There is no one to defend or help her and none to even care about her being forced into harlotry. Because Mother Superior locked the cell there was no way to escape.”

Oh that God and his crazy tests!

Jan 24, 2014 5:51pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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