Justice Sotomayor Pumps the Brakes on the Birth Control MandateS

On the cusp of pressing the reset button on our frenzied Gregorian existence, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor gave us all a frustrating New Year's Eve surprise by blocking the implementation of that tricky part of the Affordable Care Act that would have forced certain religiously affiliated organizations (ahem, Catholic universities) to provide health insurance-cum-birth control for employees.

According to the AP, Sotomayor's decision arrived as the last-minute response to a frenzy of activity (read: griping) from conservative groups across these United States that, in their unceasing efforts to make being a sexually active, gainfully employed adult as difficult as possible, were trying their darndest to prevent certain parts of the Affordable Care Act from going into effect today. Specifically, Sotomayor acted on a request from a Denver-based organization of Catholic nuns with the most abject Dickensian name imaginable: the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, whose request for an emergency stay had been denied earlier on Tuesday by a federal appeals court.

From the report:

The government is "temporarily enjoined from enforcing against applicants the contraceptive coverage requirements imposed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," Sotomayor said in the order. She gave government officials until 10 a.m. EST Friday to respond to her order.

The law requires employers to provide insurance that covers a range of preventive care, free of charge, including contraception. The Catholic Church prohibits the use of contraceptives. That was not acceptable, said their lawyer, Mark L. Rienzi.

"The Little Sisters are an order of Catholic nuns whose religious faith leads them to devote their lives to caring for the elderly poor. Not surprisingly, they have sincere and undisputed religious objections to complying with this Mandate," Rienzi said.

You might recall that the Obama administration had devised what should have (but of course totally wouldn't have) been a palatable compromise for religious organizations worried about the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate that attempted to create a buffer for those organizations (universities, hospitals, and social service groups) that oppose birth control: the law requires insurers or the health plan's external administrator to pay for contraception coverage, and creates a way to reimburse them.

And that might have all been fine for the Little Sisters except, according to Rienzi, they'd still have to sign a form authorizing the insurance company to provide contraception coverage, a little flourish of penwork that would violate their beliefs because signatures are magic and Jesus is always watching our inkwells. The only loophole, of course, is to use a ballpoint pen, like some kind of godless heathen.

Image via AP, Terry Tang