The Obama administration on Friday urged the Supreme Court not to block the Affordable Care Act's 'contraceptive mandate' from taking effect while legal challenges filed by religious groups proceed.
In a 37-page brief, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr., argued that The Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged in Denver, Colo., along with a similar Baltimore-based group, can already exempt themselves from the law's mandate to provide preventive services that include contraception.
"A signed certification form by the employer-applicants will exempt those applicants from the requirement to furnish or pay for contraceptive coverage, and shield them from any tax liability for not doing so, and the employees of the nursing homes they operate will not receive such coverage," Verrilli wrote.
On New Year's Eve, Justice Sonia Sotomayor imposed at least a temporary stay on the contraceptive mandate's impact on the objecting religious groups. Sotomayor, who oversees appeals and petitions from the region that includes Colorado, also gave the Obama administration until Friday to respond.
The religious groups contend the health-care law violates their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which provides that the government cannot "substantially burden a person's exercise of religion unless the application of that burden is the least restrictive means to advance a compelling governmental interest."
The religious groups further contend signing the certification form would put them at risk for violating their religious principles. "Unfortunately, the federal government has started the new year the same way that it ended the old one, trying to bully nuns into violating their religious beliefs," declared Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
Separately, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear later this year challenges from for-profit corporations to the contraceptive mandate.