US justice grants exemption in contraception mandate challenge

US justice grants exemption in contraception mandate challenge

WASHINGTON - Roman Catholic Church-affiliated organisations on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to block implementation of a part of the Obamacare healthcare law that requires employers to provide insurance policies that cover contraception.

Catholic University of America and nonprofits in Michigan and Tennessee were among those filing three separate applications asking the court to temporarily exempt them from the so-called contraception mandate while litigation continues. The mandate, which is due to take effect for the organisations on January 1, is already in place for many women who have private health insurance.

The court did not immediately respond to the applications. There is no set time by which the court is required to act.

The organisations, represented by the Jones Day law firm in the three applications, also said the court could take a bigger step and decide to hear the merits of their claims.

One of the applications is pending before Chief Justice John Roberts while two are before Justice Elena Kagan. The justices are assigned responsibility for emergency applications from different regions of the country. Roberts and Kagan can ask for a response from the government, deny the application outright, or refer the issue to the entire court.

The organisations accuse the federal government of forcing them to support contraception and sterilization in violation of their religious beliefs or face steep fines.

The 2010 Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, requires employers to provide health insurance policies that cover preventive services for women, including contraception and sterilization.

The act makes an exception for religious institutions such as houses of worship that mainly serve and employ members of their own faith, but not schools, hospitals and charitable organisations that employ people of all faiths.

As a compromise, the administration agreed to an accommodation for non-profits affiliated with religious entities that was finalized in July.

Under the accommodation, eligible non-profits have to provide a "self certification" - described by one lower court judge as a "permission slip" - that authorizes the insurance companies to provide the coverage. The challengers say that step alone is enough to violate their religious rights.

In separate cases, the Supreme Court already has agreed to hear oral arguments on whether for-profit corporations have the basis to object to the contraception mandate on religious grounds. The court is due to hear the arguments in March and decide the two consolidated cases by the end of June.

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