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Nuns File Appeal in Contraceptive Coverage Case

Nuns File Appeal in Contraceptive Coverage Case

February 26, 2014 — An order of Colorado nuns that received a temporary injunction against the federal contraceptive coverage rules has filed a 74-page appeal outlining its case before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the AP/Miami Herald reports (AP/Miami Herald, 2/24).

Case Background

A lower court initially denied the group's request to block the rules, but Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in December granted a temporary injunction in the case, a class action suit filed on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged and several other organizations.

Although the plaintiffs are eligible for an accommodation for not-for-profit religious employers that object to contraceptive coverage, they argued in the suit that they still "would be required to actively facilitate and promote the distribution of these [contraception] services in ways that are forbidden by their religion."

In January, the Department of Justice asked the high court to lift the temporary injunction, noting that the groups would not have to provide coverage regardless of the stay. DOJ cited an insurance law called ERISA, under which the health plan administrator for the Little Sisters is classified as a church organization and therefore not required to provide contraceptive coverage.

After the request, the Supreme Court extended the temporary injunction on the condition that the Little Sisters send HHS written notice that the order is a religious organization with "religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services."

The justices wrote that the unsigned order "should not be construed as an expression of the court's views on the merits" of the case as it continued in the lower court (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/27).

Appeal Details

In the latest filing, the Little Sisters argue that the contraceptive coverage rules infringe upon rights of free speech and religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (PL 103-141).

The appeal added, "Regardless of what the trial court and the government think the Little Sisters should believe, the undisputed fact is that they do believe their religion forbids them from signing (the form)" that would transfer the responsibility for providing the coverage to the health plan administrator.

It is not known when the federal government will respond to the appeal or when the appeals court will rule (AP/Miami Herald, 2/24).