By Patricia K. Ruiz, J.D.
The religious nonprofit corporation wants review of a Third Circuit decision enjoining the implementation of a final rule exempting employers with religious or moral objections from ACA contraception coverage requirements.
The Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home (Little Sisters), a nonprofit corporation operated by an order of Catholic nuns who care for the sick and elderly poor, filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court. Little Sisters seeks Supreme Court review of a Third Circuit decision affirming a nationwide injunction against a rule permitting employers with religious objections to refuse to pay for contraceptives for their employees.
Opposition to contraception coverage requirement. Little Sisters opposes contraception, sterilization, and abortion. Previously the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) determined that health plans covered by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) must provide contraceptive services. The contraceptive mandate provided a narrow exemption for certain religious organizations. Little Sisters sued HHS seeking to enjoin enforcement of the contraceptive coverage requirement arguing that it imposed a substantial burden on religious freedom, in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). In 2017, in two interim final rules, the Trump Administration broadened the availability of exemptions to the contraceptive mandate to allow all publicly traded companies objecting on religious or moral grounds to opt out of the coverage requirement (see Contraception coverage exemptions extended for objecting employers on religious, moral grounds, October 11, 2017). The new rules expanded the exemptions, effectively nullifying the need for accommodation.
A court issued a nationwide preliminary injunction enjoining the implementation of the interim final rules. Little sisters attempted multiple times to intervene in defense of the interim final rules (see Little sisters may not intervene in lawsuit challenging contraception coverage exemptions, December 12, 2017, and Little Sisters of the Poor had significantly protectable interest, intervention allowed, April 26, 2018). In 2018, the Administration promulgated final rules in 2018 superseding the injunctions (see Court enjoins 2019 final rules for religious, moral exemptions, January 14, 2019). The Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction preventing the implementation of 2019 final rules. The Third Circuit affirmed the preliminary injunction (see States likely to succeed in lawsuit challenging contraception exemption regulations, July 15, 2019).
Petition for certiorari. In Little Sisters’ petition for certiorari, the organization seeks Supreme Court review of the Third Circuit decision. Little Sisters asked the Supreme Court to determine whether a litigant who is directly protected by an administrative rule and has been allowed to intervene to defend it lacks standing to appeal a decision invalidating the rule if the litigant is also protected by an injunction from a different court. It also asked the court to determine whether the federal government lawfully exempted religious objectors from the contraception coverage requirement.
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