Justice temporarily excludes religious groups from birth control mandate

This was the day that President Obama's health care law took effect -- most of it, anyway.

A U.S. Supreme Court justice temporarily blocked a controversial part of the law as it applies to some religious organizations.

The one-page order issued late Tuesday night by Justice Sonia Sotomayor temporarily exempts some church-affiliated organizations from a requirement in the health care law that they provide health insurance that includes birth control.

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Some religious organizations have been temporarily exempted from the birth-control mandate
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Those organizations include The Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Roman Catholic nuns who provide nursing care for the elderly.

In their petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, they said they could face "millions of dollars in fines" because they cannot comply with the law's requirement to provide access to contraceptives, which are "forbidden by their religion."

The Obama administration included a compromise in the law that allows religious groups to sign a certification opting out of the contraceptive requirement -- leaving responsibility for providing that coverage to insurance companies. 

 

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The case is expected eventually to go to the U.S. Supreme Court
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But that's not good enough, according to Daniel Blomberg, of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the nuns in the lawsuit.

"The Little Sisters say, 'We can't do that. Our religious beliefs prevent us from not only participating directly, but also participating from forcing someone else to do it,'" he said.

The case could affect hundreds of nonprofit Catholic organizations and ministries across the country.

Marcia Greenberger is with the National Women's Law Center. "Ninety-eight percent of Catholic women, at some point in their lives, will use contraceptives," she said. "The issue is, whose religious freedom are we talking about -- an employer's religious freedom or an individual woman's own religious judgments about what she should be able to do herself?"

Numerous religious organizations have filed federal lawsuits against the contraceptive requirement, and even some private companies have filed lawsuits saying that it violates their religious rights. All of this is expected eventually to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.



  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.

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