Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor issues injunction against HHS mandate for Catholic nuns
WASHINGTON, D.C., January 2, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – In what is being seen as another blow for the Affordable Care Act's abortion and contraception mandate, this week the United States Supreme Court issued an injunction blocking enforcement of the mandate, this time to protect a group of Catholic nuns.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued the injunction the day before the mandate would have forced the abstinent, largely elderly Little Sisters of the Poor to offer the abortion and contraception coverage.
The mandate took effect on January 1, 2014 for religiously-affiliated organizations like the Little Sisters.
The Supreme Court is also currently considering challenges to the mandate from Hobby Lobby and Conestaga Wood, for-profit businesses whose owners claim the mandate violates their religious and conscience freedoms.
The Obama administration has until Friday at 10 a.m. to challenge the injunction, which could send the case back down to the 10th Circuit Court.
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According to Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman, to date, in 20 decisions involving non-profit organizations, all but one have resulted in an injunction barring enforcement of the mandate. Additionally, 35 out of 41 injunctions handed down involving families and businesses have also blocked the mandate.
“I think that is the broad implication – is that Obamacare's abortion pill mandate is losing overwhelmingly because it is illegal to trample upon religious freedom in America,” said Bowman. “The fact is, Obamacare violates religious freedom, and judges across the political spectrum agree that it does.”
The mandate, which was first issued in January of 2012, has been modified several times since its first issuance. It started out requiring employers – even those with religious affiliations – directly to provide coverage for all contraception, sterilizations, and a variety of abortifacient drugs. In a series of “accommodations” the Obama administration then shifted the responsibility to pay for the disputed coverage to the insurance companies of religious organizations.
However, opponents of the mandate say the changes amount to little more than an accounting gimmick, and would still force religious organizations to pay for coverage that violates their consciences.
Meanwhile, the accommodations did nothing to give relief to for-profit businesses, such as Hobby Lobby, which are owned by devout Christians who oppose paying for abortion-causing drugs.
Bowman told LifeSiteNews.com that “it's significant [that Sotomayor gave the injunction] because she denied the same request to Hobby Lobby a year ago.” Sotomayor was given the case because she oversees the 10th Circuit Court.
However, Doug Mataconis, a writer for the political blog OutsideTheBeltway.com, questioned the significance of the injunction, claiming that it may amount to little more than a placeholder decision. “I suspect that the main reason she granted the stay was simply for the purposes of maintaining the status quo until she, or the full Court, can rule on the matter,” wrote Mataconis.
Even if a permanent stay was granted by the full Court, reading into such an action would be “pure guesswork,” he wrote.
Mataconis told LifeSiteNews.com that there are “two potential differences come to mind” when it comes to why Sotomayor may have given an injunction to Little Sisters and not Hobby Lobby.
“First, there's the January 1st effective date for the Affordable Care Act. My understanding is that the petitioners in the case before Sotomayor right now would potentially start having penalties assessed against them if they didn't begin complying with the law. Second, Hobby Lobby is a privately owned corporation whose owners contend that providing birth control coverage violates their religious principles. Little Sisters of the Poor and the other Plaintiffs in the current case are employers with ties to explicitly religious organizations.”
“The HHS regulations on this issue already treat these two types of employers differently for purposes of the mandate,” said Mataconis. “That may also explain their different treatment in court.”
Other court actions regarding the HHS mandate took place in the last few days. The 7th and 10th Circuit Courts denied injunctions to Notre Dame and Little Sisters, respectively, but Sotomayor's injunction overruled the 10th Circuit, and the 7th Circuit “ordered expedited briefing and oral argument.” The D.C. Circuit Court provided an injunction for Priests for Life.
The Becket Fund, which represents challenges to the mandate, has a graphic tracking all of the lawsuits that have been filed against the mandate. According to The Becket Fund, to date 52 court rulings have gone against the mandate, and seven for it.