The US Justice Department on Friday asked the Supreme Court to throw out a challenge from a nuns’ group against a birth control mandate in the Obamacare health reform law.
The Little Sisters of the Poor had asked the US high court to exempt it from the controversial birth control clause, saying that providing birth control was contrary to its religious beliefs.
The US government, in its written response, asked the court to lift the temporary block on birth control, arguing that the provision does not apply to the nuns anyway.
The Little Sisters’ lawsuit is “not about the availability or adequacy of a religious accommodation,” the Justice Department brief said.
Instead, the nuns group wants to “justify its refusal to sign a self-certification that secures the very religion-based exemption the objector seeks.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor had issued the temporary block on the birth control provision late Tuesday, giving the US government until Friday to provide its response.
The US adminstration wrote in its filing that the Obamacare law — formally known as the Affordable Care Act — does not require the nuns or any other nonprofit religious group to provide employees with insurance coverage for birth control.
The nuns had argued that signing a waiver — which would allow an insurance administrator to provide the coverage through separate funding — would make them complicit in making birth control available.
But the Justice Department noted that the administrator of the nun group’s insurance — which is itself a church group, itself — is also exempt from providing coverage for birth control.
The landmark Affordable Care Act (ACA) legislation was a bid by Obama to guarantee that uninsured Americans are afforded access to medical care, but opponents have objected strongly to various aspects of the law.
The birth control requirement has been one of the most controversial aspects of the US health law, and has received spirited pushback from religiously affiliated organizations.
Sotomayor had acted late New Year’s Eve, just hours before major provisions of the Affordable Care Act law were to take effect, asking for the government’s response by Friday. It was not clear when she would make her decision now that the government had filed.
Her order late Tuesday applied to the Little Sisters of the Poor and other Roman Catholic nonprofit groups that use a health plan called the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust.
The US high court agreed in late November to hear several cases that could settle the dispute between the Obama administration and private companies run by Christian conservatives over whether those businesses must pay for birth control if contraceptive coverage conflicts with the religious beliefs of the business owner.
Since its passage in 2010, Obamacare has survived multiple repeal attempts by Republican lawmakers, a US Supreme Court hearing, and a disastrous rollout of the website set up to assist the launch of the legislation.
Under the law, it is illegal for insurers to deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions or to limit the level of annual reimbursements for essential services — practices in the past which had left some patients facing financial ruin.
It also now is mandatory for any US resident to enroll in a health care plan.