Catholic groups ask court to halt health care law

December 31, 2013

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

Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s decision came after a different effort by Catholic-affiliated groups from across the nation. Those groups had rushed to the federal courts to block portions of the Affordable Care Act set to start Wednesday.

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

The government is “temporarily enjoined from enforcing against applicants the contraceptive coverage requirements imposed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” Sotomayor said in the order. She gave government officials until 10 a.m. Friday to respond to her order.

The law requires employers to provide insurance that covers a range of preventive care free of charge, including contraception. The Catholic Church prohibits the use of contraceptives. That was not acceptable, said attorney Mark L. Rienzi.

Sotomayor’s decision to delay the contraceptive portion of the law was joined by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which also issued an emergency stay for Catholic-affiliated groups challenging the contraceptive provision. But one judge on the three-judge panel, Judge David S. Tatel, said he would have denied their motion.

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