DENVER (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Friday put on hold its ruling that an order of Roman Catholic nuns must comply with a contraception mandate to President Barack Obama’s healthcare law, giving the group time to petition the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver granted a request by the Little Sisters of the Poor for a stay of the court’s earlier decision that the requirement did not substantially curb the nun’s religious liberty.
The nuns had sued under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act over the birth control provision of the 2010 Affordable Health Care Act, widely known as Obamacare.
The Sisters argued that the law forces them to provide insurance coverage for its employees to support contraception and sterilization services in violation of their religious beliefs, or face steep fines.
Under a compromise crafted under the healthcare law, religious groups can opt-out of paying for the services, but a third party or an insurance carrier must foot the bill.
The Sisters, who operate more than two dozen nursing homes nationwide, said that still makes them complicit in providing artificial birth-control services even if they did not directly pay for them.
The 10th Circuit rejected the challenge last month, and the nuns along with 10 other religious non-profits then requested a stay while they filed a writ of certiorari, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.
On Friday, a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit granted the request.
Mark Rienzi, a lawyer with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the nuns, said on Friday that “government officials and judges” are telling faith-based groups that their beliefs are wrong.
“The federal government doesn’t need the Little Sisters or any other ministry to help it distribute abortion-inducing drugs and other contraceptives,” Rienzi said in a statement.
The request for the review is the second time the Sisters have appealed to the high court over the mandate. In 2014, the Supreme Court ordered that while litigation over the contraception mandate and the compromise continued, the nuns where exempt from the mandate.
The appellate court said on Friday that enforcement of the mandate will be on hold until the nation’s highest court decides whether to hear the case.
“If the petitions are granted, the stay of the mandate shall continue until the Supreme Court’s final disposition,” the ruling said.