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Obama Administration Defends Birth Control Benefit in Supreme Court Response

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The Affordable Care Act's requirement that insurance cover contraception equally does not infringe on religious rights, the administration argued.

On Friday, the Obama administration asked the Supreme Court not to extend an injunction granted to a handful of Catholic business that exempts them from complying with the birth control benefit provision of the Affordable Care Act.

The request was part of the administration’s response to an emergency petition filed to the Supreme Court in the case of Little Sisters of the Poor, one of a host of new lawsuits brought by religiously affiliated nonprofits challenging the “religious accommodation” to the benefit. Late on New Year’s Eve, just before the benefit was to take effect, Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted a limited and temporary injunction for the Little Sisters plaintiffs and gave the Obama administration until 10:00 a.m. Friday to respond before considering whether the injunction should be extended while the case continues in the lower courts. Several other challenges by religiously affiliated nonprofits are also pending in federal district and appellate courts.

The dispute centers on the “self-certification” provision of the religious exemption. Under that requirement, groups that qualify for the religious exemption from the contraception mandate must fill out a form that certifies they are a religious nonprofit organization and object to the requirement. Completing that form, the groups claim, infringes on their religious liberty rights.

Justice Sotomayor could decide the matter on her own, or she could refer it to the whole Court for consideration. There is no timeframe for the Supreme Court to make its decision.

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