WASHINGTON -- There’s another development in the mounting legal battle over the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers include contraception coverage in their insurance plans.
The U.S. Justice Department said Friday it does not want the Supreme Court to exempt religious groups from the contraception mandate.
North Carolina’s Belmont Abbey College was the first Catholic group to challenge the requirement in court.
The Justice Department on Friday said the government opposes a decision by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor this week to temporarily block a part of the Affordable Care Act.
That provision requires most employers to cover forms of contraception in their health care plans.
Justice Sotomayor acted on a request from an order of Catholic nuns in Denver. But the Obama administration says the legal challenge is unfounded.
“We’ve tried to strike the right balance. House of worship, church plans are of course exempt. So we’ve been very careful to be fair to women and be fair to houses of worship,” said Phil Schiliro, White House adviser.
In a 37-page legal motion filed Friday, the Justice Department said groups need only self-certify that they are religious nonprofits and opt out. The filing reads:
“With the stroke of their own pen, applicants can secure for themselves the relief they seek from this Court -- an exemption from the requirements of the contraceptive-coverage provision.”
But religious advocates say just the act of the nuns singing such a self-certification and opting out amounts to signing a “permission slip” for the use of contraceptives. That, they say, violates their religious beliefs and their rights.
There are currently 91 lawsuits, challenging the contraception mandate. One of the lawyers representing several of the religious groups said in a written statement:
“Unfortunately, the federal government has started the new year the same way that it ended the old one: trying to bully nuns into violating their religious beliefs,” said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
The White House, of course, sees it differently.
“We’ve made a lot of common sense adjustments to deal with problems as people have them. That’s what the president’s approach is. He’s never thought the law was perfect. He’s always said he’s willing to work with anyone to make it better. So as people identify problems, we just try to fix them,” said Schiliro.
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