A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that an order of Roman Catholic nuns must comply with ObamaCare’s birth control mandate, the likely end to a years-long battle over the rule.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th District ruled that Little Sisters of the Poor cannot receive a full exemption from the law’s contraception rules because they “do not substantially burden plaintiffs’ religious exercise or violate the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights.”
Under the contraception mandate, nonprofit religious groups such as Little Sisters of the Poor are permitted to opt out of the requirement if they report their concerns to their insurance companies or the federal government.
But that group and others have objected to any extra steps to obtain the exemption. Instead, they are seeking the same treatment as houses of worship, which are not required to fill out additional paperwork in order to avoid fines under the law.
“It is a national embarrassment that the world’s most powerful government insists that, instead of providing contraceptives through its own existing exchanges and programs, it must crush the Little Sisters’ faith and force them to participate,” Mark Rienzi, lead attorney for the Little Sisters of the Poor, wrote in a statement.
Rienzi, who accused federal officials of “hijacking” the nuns’ health insurance plan, said the group’s attorneys are considering whether to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
Little Sisters of the Poor had received a temporary injunction from the Supreme Court in January 2014 while the appeals court considered their case.
The 10th Circuit issued its ruling one year after the Supreme Court’s landmark Hobby Lobby decision, which affirmed that certain businesses with religious objections can opt out of the mandate.
Since then, many appeals court judges have cited the Hobby Lobby decision as a reason to uphold the underlying mandate.
Under the Affordable Care Act, businesses with more than 50 employees must provide healthcare that covers services including all government-approved forms of contraception or face fines.
But if religious businesses are given permission to opt out, the Obama administration has set up a system of third-party payments that allows women insured by those companies to continue receiving contraception coverage if they desire it. Those regulations were finalized by the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this week.
The Little Sisters of the Poor's lawsuit had been one of the few remaining challenges against the contraception mandate.
“We are not political activists at all. But we fear that the mandate could set a precedent for greater government intrusion into our ministry,’ Sister Constance Veit, a spokeswoman for the group, told The New York Times this week.