Supreme Court agrees to hear case involving religious freedom in Obamacare dispute over birth control

The Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Roman Catholic nuns, fought the contraceptive requirement since it was first imposed.
Image: Pedro Rojas holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare
Pedro Rojas holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, in Miami, Florida.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

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By Pete Williams

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court said Friday it will take up the fate of a Trump administration rule, now on hold, that would grant employers an exemption, on religious or moral grounds, from Obamacare's requirement to provide health insurance coverage for birth control.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey successfully challenged the rule that would provide broad exemptions to the law, and lower courts blocked enforcement nationwide. The Trump administration is joined in defending the rule by the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Roman Catholic nuns that has fought the contraceptive requirement since it was first imposed.

In a 2014 case involving the Hobby Lobby stores, the Supreme Court said a private, religiously oriented, and closely held company could get an exemption from the contraceptive mandate on religious grounds. The Trump administration rule would expand the exemption to allow even publicly held companies to seek an exemption on religious grounds. Nonprofits and nonpublicly traded companies should seek an exemption on moral grounds.

The Little Sisters praised the Supreme Court's action to take up the appeal.

"It is disappointing to think that as we enter a new decade we must still defend our ministry in court," said Mother Loraine Marie Maguire. "We are grateful the Supreme Court has decided to weigh in, and hopeful that the justices will reinforce their previous decision and allow us to focus on our lifelong work of serving the elderly poor once and for all."

But the ACLU Friday condemned the proposed rule.

"Allowing employers and universities to use their religious beliefs to block employees' and students' birth control coverage isn't religious liberty, it's discrimination," said Brigitte Amiri, deputy director at the group's Reproductive Freedom Project.

The court will hear the case in April with a decision by late June.

EDITOR'S NOTE (Jan. 17, 2020, 4:30 p.m. ET): An earlier article saying that the Supreme Court had agreed to hear a case about same-sex couples as foster parents was published in error. The court has not decided whether to hear that case, and the article has been removed from the site.