The group of nuns serving the elderly poor that has been fighting Obamacare’s birth control mandate for years has to comply with the Obama administration’s current exemption format, a federal appeals court has ruled.
The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday a number of religious organizations, including the Colorado-based convent the Little Sisters of the Poor, must comply with the Obama administration’s exemption layout for Obamacare’s birth control mandate. The ruling raises questions about whether the Supreme Court will again take up the question of the birth control mandate after handing the Obama administration a defeat last year in the case of arts and crafts store Hobby Lobby.
Sr. Loraine Marie Maguire, mother provincial of the Little Sisters, said in a statement that the group “simply cannot choose between our care for the elderly poor and our faith…all we ask is to be able to continue our religious vocation free from government intrusion.”
The Little Sisters and other Christian employers, who have been fighting the mandate in court for years, argue the exemption continues to burden their free exercise of their faith, but the circuit court ruled Tuesday that “shifting responsibility to provide coverage away from the plaintiffs relieves rather than burdens their religious exercise,” the circuit court ruled Tuesday.
The mandate requires employers cover 20 FDA-approved types of contraception at no cost to their workers, but after a decisive defeat at the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case in 2014, the administration has re-formulated an exemption for religious organizations. The current exemption requires select religious employers to notify either the federal Department of Health and Human Services or their insurance providers that they have religious objections to the birth control coverage.
The insurance company will then be required to cover the products at no cost to the employee instead — in the Little Sisters’ case, that leaves the tab with the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust and Christian Brothers Services, who are also part of the lawsuit against the Obama administration’s exemption.
“We will keep on fighting for the Little Sisters, even if that means having to go all the way to the Supreme Court,” Daniel Blomberg, counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the Little Sisters, said in a statement Tuesday.
Religious organizations fighting the birth control mandate and the Obama administration’s exemption have already filed five petitions asking the Supreme Court to hear their cases, Becket Fund counsel Adele Keim tells The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“The ball is in the Supreme Court’s court to decide which of the cases they want to take,” Keim said. “Because the Supreme Court has rebuked the government six times over the mandate, most observers think it is likely that the Supreme Court will want to weigh in.”
“After losing repeatedly at the Supreme Court, the government continues its unrelenting pursuit of the Little Sisters of the Poor,” said Mark Rienzi, the nuns’ attorney and senior counsel at the Becket Fund, in a statement Tuesday. “It is a national embarrassment that the world’s most powerful government insists that, instead of providing contraceptives through its own existing exchanges and programs, it must crush the Little Sisters’ faith and force them to participate.”
“Untold millions of people have managed to get contraceptives without involving nuns, and there is no reason the government cannot run its programs without hijacking the Little Sisters and their health plan,” Rienzi concluded.
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