SC Justice Sotomayor blocks portion of the Affordable Health Care Act

Acted on an emergency appeal from lawyers for Little Sisters of the Poor

The Associated Press reports:

Only hours before the law was to take effect, a Supreme Court justice on Tuesday blocked implementation of part of President Obama’s health care law that would have forced some religion-affiliated organizations to provide health insurance for employees that includes birth control coverage.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s decision came after a different effort by Catholic-affiliated groups from around the U.S. Those groups had rushed to the federal courts to stop Wednesday’s start of portions of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Sotomayor acted on a request from an organization of Catholic nuns in Denver, the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged. Its request for an emergency stay had been denied earlier in the day by a federal appeals court.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

She acted on an emergency appeal from lawyers for the group who said the nuns faced “draconian fines” beginning on New Year’s Day if they failed to comply with the law widely known as Obamacare.

Sotomayor gave the government until Friday to file a response in the case. Her order extends only to the group of nuns and does not apply more broadly to the Affordable Care Act and its requirements. …

It was unclear how the Obama administration would proceed after Sotomayor’s order. Obama is vacationing with his family in Hawaii this week, and the White House is not expected to make any comment before the Justice Department files a response to Sotomayor’s ruling on Friday.

A number of religious groups with similar objections have vigorously challenged the Affordable Care Act in court. The Colorado order of nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, asked for the last-minute ruling Tuesday because the healthcare law’s provisions go into effect Jan. 1.

This past October, Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online interviewed Sister Constance Veit, L.S.P., communications director for the Little Sisters of the Poor:

LOPEZ: How is the HHS mandate going to hurt you?

SISTER CONSTANCE: Non-compliance with the mandate would incur huge fines, constituting a severe financial burden for us and diverting much-needed funds away from the care of the poor. As it stands now, to offer our employees health insurance without free access to abortion-inducing drugs and devices, sterilization procedures, and contraceptives would risk fines of $100 per day per affected individual. For a home with 50 insured employees, this would mean fines of nearly $2 million per year. Similar fines could be imposed on each of our 30 U.S. homes! This is a tremendous price to pay for continuing our mission, since we already rely on donations for about half of our operating expenses in most of our homes.

Several people have asked how we can justify using our limited funds to pursue this lawsuit. I would like to make clear that the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is representing us pro bono, as they do all their clients, so thankfully we have not been forced to spend money that should be going to the poor on this case.


LOPEZ: What’s religious liberty to you?

SISTER CONSTANCE: Religious liberty is both the freedom to worship according to one’s faith and the ability to live and contribute to the common good in harmony with one’s religious beliefs. For the Little Sisters, this means being free to lead our religious life and pursue our mission of hospitality to the elderly poor in fidelity to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and the ideals of our religious congregation.

LOPEZ: How does your opposition to this mandate square with your support for health care?

SISTER CONSTANCE: We share the Church’s position that access to basic, quality health care is a universal human right, and that any just health-care policy must respect all human life, from conception to natural death. Unfortunately, the HHS contraceptive mandate fails to respect human life at its beginning and that is why we and other religious institutions cannot abide by it. Individuals are free to access these services through other channels; we are merely saying that we cannot in conscience participate in providing them.

The Church also believes that just health-care policies must include special concern for the poor. This is the heart of our mission. Our lives are uniquely devoted to providing quality health care and a dignified life to the neediest elderly among us, no matter how weak or diminished they may be.

We are also committed to offering our lay employees just compensation and the best health-care insurance we can afford. But we must provide these benefits in accord with Catholic teaching.

Read the entire interview.

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About Carl E. Olson 1217 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.