Supreme Court grants Little Sisters temporary exemption from contraception mandate

"This order should not be construed as an expression of the Court’s views on the merits," according to the justices

Published January 24, 2014 10:06PM (EST)

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

The Supreme Court late Friday granted the Little Sisters of the Poor a temporary exemption from the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate.

While some may hail this as a victory for opponents of the mandate, the high court emphasized in its order that the action was not to be "construed as an expression of the Court’s views on the merits."

The action is limited in its impact because the issue before the court was procedural -- a matter of whether or not to issue the injunction. The merits of the case were never before the court. What the Friday action means is that the Little Sisters do not need to fill out the form indicating its objection to the mandate pending its appeal in federal court.

As Salon has previously noted, the Obama administration has created an exemption for religious nonprofits like the Little Sisters. In order to comply with the law, these organizations are simply required to fill out a form stating they object to the mandate and send that form to a third-party administrator, which will then provide and pay for the contraceptive coverage the groups will not provide.

At issue in the Little Sisters case is, put simply, whether or not filling out a form is a violation of the organization's religious freedom.

The Little Sisters' claim is especially rich because the organization uses a self-insured “church plan” to provide insurance for employees and would never have been compelled to provide contraceptive coverage in the first place.

The case will be decided by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which upheld the mandate in December.

More to come as the story develops.


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

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Affordable Care Act Birth Control Scotus Women's Health Women's Rights