KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Justice Dept. Defends Birth Control Rule Against Nuns’ Suit

The administration responded to a lawsuit by a group of nuns challenging how the health law exempts them from the rule. 

The New York Times: Obama Administration Urges Court To Reject Nuns’ Health Law Challenge
The Obama administration urged the Supreme Court on Friday to reject a lawsuit filed by the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Roman Catholic nuns challenging requirements for many employers to provide health insurance coverage of birth control or face penalties under the new health care law. The Justice Department said the requirements did not impose a “substantial burden” on the nuns’ right to practice their religion, because they could “opt out” of the obligation by certifying that they had religious objections to such coverage (Pear, 1/3).

Reuters: U.S. Asks Top Court Not To Extend Catholics' Contraception Exemption
On Tuesday night, Justice Sonia Sotomayor had granted a temporary injunction preventing the government from enforcing the so-called "contraception mandate" against the Little Sisters of the Poor and Christian Brothers Services while litigation continues. In its filing on Friday, the government said the groups have no legal basis to file the lawsuit because the insurance plan in question is a "church plan," which the government has already acknowledged it cannot force to provide contraception coverage (Hurley, 1/3).

USA Today: Justice Dept. Opposes Block On Contraceptive Mandate
Under the Obama administration accommodation, the insurers or third-party administrators of religious-affiliated groups would have to provide contraceptives to the organization's employees at no charge. But the Obama administration's fix was still problematic for organizations like the Little Sisters, whose third-party administrator is the Christian Brothers Employee Benefits Trust — also a religious organization. Mark Rienzi, lead counsel for the Little Sisters of the Poor, said on Friday that ... "The government demands that the Little Sisters of the Poor sign a permission slip for abortion drugs and contraceptives, or pay of millions in fines," Rienzi said. "The Sisters believe that doing that violates their faith" (Madhani and Stanglin, 1/3).

NBC News: US Argues Nuns Have No Complaint Over Birth Control Requirement
“The question here is in order to receive that exemption, they have to fill out a form,” says Ian Millhiser, senior constitutional policy analyst at the Center For American Progress. “That form announces to the government that they have a religious exemption. Employees can use that form to get (birth control) from their insurer.” The Little Sisters say that the act of filling out the form makes them complicit to birth control, which they believe is sinful. But no one who works for Little Sisters can get birth control under their plan, anyway, the DoJ argues (Fox, 1/3).

CNN: 5 Things To Know About Obamacare And Contraceptives
A court order could ultimately impact scores of religious groups and non-profit businesses, ... But it would be only a stop-gap or temporary measure, either blocking or allowing enforcement until the federal courts decide larger legal and constitutional questions. ... Separately, the justices in March will take up a related challenge to the birth control coverage mandate. That appeal concerns whether some for-profit corporations should be exempt, again on religious liberty grounds (1/3).

Politico: Sonia Sotomayor Faces Health Law Contraception Decision
In all, more than 90 legal challenges have been filed around the country. A Supreme Court decision against the contraceptive rule would undercut but not cripple the health law. The birth control rule is a small piece of the overall law, but it’s been another source of ongoing political controversy for President Barack Obama’s signature law (Haberkorn, 1/3).

Politico: Administration Faces Tough Fight On Contraception Cases
As a new round of religion-based challenges to President Barack Obama’s health care law head to the Supreme Court, advocates on both sides of the issue say the administration’s arguments are likely facing a chilly reception. ... Together, the cases could recreate a broad left-right coalition on the court that has emerged in the past decade to defend religious rights against alleged government intrusions (Gerstein, 1/4).

And, on Sunday:

The Hill: Lawyer: Nuns' Case 'Exceptionally Important' 
Mark Rienzi of the Becket Fund for Liberty, one of the groups representing Little Sisters of the Poor, said on “Fox News Sunday” that the nuns would face massive fines if the Supreme Court lifted a temporary injunction that keeps the federal government from enforcing the mandate. ... Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said Supreme Court action would show how well the government could balance the needs for religious liberty (Becker, 1/5).

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