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High Court Grants Nuns Temporary Exemption From Birth Control Mandate

The Supreme Court granted a group of Catholic nuns a temporary exemption from the birth control mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

The Little Sisters of the Poor are suing the Obama administration because they say their religious liberty is being violated by a provision in Obamacare, as the health care law is known colloquially, that requires employers to provide free contraception in their insurance plans.

In an order issued Friday, the Supreme Court put that mandate on hold, while the case is decided by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The AP explains:

"Their lawyer, Mark Rienzi of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said they were delighted to hear about the court's decision. 'It made no sense for the Little Sisters to be singled out for fines and punishment before they could even finish their suit,' he said.

"Under the health care law, most health insurance plans have to cover all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives as preventive care for women, free of cost to the patient. Churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the birth control requirement, but affiliated institutions that serve the general public are not. That includes charitable organizations, universities and hospitals.

"In response to an outcry, the government came up with a compromise that requires insurers or health plan administrators to provide birth control coverage but allows the religious group to distance itself from that action. The exemption is triggered when the religious group signs a form for the insurer saying that it objects to the coverage. The insurer can then go forward with the coverage.

"A group of Denver nuns who run nursing homes for the poor, called the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, say signing that form makes them complicit in providing contraceptive coverage, and therefore violates their religious beliefs."

The Supreme Court said that for the nuns to be eligible for the temporary exemption they need to notify the Department of Health And Human Services in writing that they're a religious nonprofit and "have religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services."

The court also warned that this order should "not be construed as an expression of the Court's views on the merits."

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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