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Supreme Court grants contraceptive mandate exemption

The US Supreme Court [official website] on Friday issued an order [order, PDF] enjoining the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) [official website] from requiring that the Little Sisters, a Roman Catholic order, fill out a formal government document in order to secure exemption from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) [text; JURIST backgrounder] contraceptive mandate. The PPACA requires employers providing certain health care plans to cover various types of contraceptives. Religious groups seeking exemption from the contraceptive mandate must complete and submit a government form [EBSA Form 700] setting forth the basis upon which they object. The Little Sisters, whose case against the mandate currently pends before the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit [official website], sought injunctive relief from the Supreme Court with respect to the document requirement on grounds that compliance would make them complicit in pregnancy-related services to which they object. The high court's order grants the Little Sisters exemption from the contraceptive mandate without the document, so long as they notify the government, in writing, that they object to the law on religious grounds. The court noted, however, that the order "should not be construed as an expression of the Court's views on the merits ..." of the case pending before the appellate court.

Laws regulating contraception have been subject to various challenges at both the federal and state level. Earlier this month an Oklahoma state court judge ruled [JURIST report] the state's emergency contraception law unconstitutional. In November a divided three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that the contraceptive mandate imposed by the PPACA violates the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause. In October the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit rejected [JURIST report] claims by Eden Foods that it should be exempt on religious grounds from the contraception mandate PPACA. In July the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled [JURIST report] Friday that family-owned, profit-making businesses cannot challenge the new federal health care law's birth control mandate on religious grounds.

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