WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Friday shielded the Little Sisters of the Poor and other nonprofit religious groups from complying, for now, with the Obama administration's rule that they provide free contraceptives in the health insurance they offer employees.
The justices issued a one-paragraph order that keeps in place a temporary injunction that was handed down by Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Dec. 31.
The Little Sisters of the Poor and other Catholic charities objected to the so-called contraceptive mandate — a provision of the Affordable Care Act — on religious grounds. Their lawyers said they feared "draconian fines" if they failed to comply with the new rule, which took effect Jan. 1.
Friday's order says that if Little Sisters and the other nonprofits that filed suit inform the secretary of Health and Human Services in writing that they have religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services, the government may not enforce the provision until the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver rules on their legal challenge.
Catholic leaders say the rule violates their religious freedom because they believe contraceptives are immoral.
The Obama administration says the requirement protects women's health care rights. Officials stressed that religious groups may opt out of paying for contraceptives by filling out a form triggering a requirement that their insurers pick up the cost of such coverage.
In the order Friday, the justices said the Catholic nonprofits "need not use the form prescribed by the government," nor send copies to their insurers.
"This order should not be construed as an expression of the court's views on the merits" of the legal challenge, the court said.