Supreme Court temporarily blocks contraception mandate for Catholic nonprofits

Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Tuesday issued a narrow order to delay enforcement of the contraceptive mandate

Published January 2, 2014 3:29PM (EST)

                                                       (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
(AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The Supreme Court this week temporarily exempted two religious-affiliated groups from having to comply with the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor issuing the order just hours before many of the major provisions of the new healthcare law were set to take effect.

The two Catholic nonprofits behind the legal challenge, the Denver-based Little Sisters of the Poor and Illinois-based Christian Brothers Services, argued the mandate violates Catholic doctrine on reproductive healthcare. Both organizations have been exempted from complying with the law until at least Friday, when the federal government must file its response.

The contraception mandate has been the target of conservative scrutiny and dozens of legal challenges since it was first announced by the Obama administration in 2011. While churches and other places of worship are exempted from the provision, religious-affiliated nonprofits such as Catholic hospitals, religious schools and groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor that wish to opt out must find a third-party insurance program to provide reproductive health coverage for contraception, emergency contraception and tubal ligation.

The administration has argued in court that requiring these groups to find a third-party insurer to provide the coverage that they refuse to offer imposes “no substantial burden," but the groups are still fighting the accommodation.

“The Sisters would also be required to sign a form that triggers the start of that [contraceptive] coverage,” said the Becket Fund, the conservative law firm representing the nuns' group in the lawsuit. “In good conscience, they cannot do that. So the ‘accommodation’ still violates their religious beliefs.”

As CNN notes, a White House official countered on Wednesday that the administration remains confident that the religious accommodation strikes the correct "balance of providing women with free contraceptive coverage while preventing non-profit religious organizations with religious objections to contraceptive coverage from having to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for such coverage."

The White House has previously said that it believes the contraception mandate is "lawful and essential to women's health."

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

MORE FROM Katie McDonough