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Supreme Court accepts contraceptive mandate challenges

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In a long-awaited step, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday granted religious nonprofit groups' request to challenge the health care reform law's so-called contraceptive mandate.

In an order accepting the challenges, the nation's high court consolidated seven lawsuits that challenge the health care reform law's rule. It requires religious nonprofit employers to offer their employees cost-free prescription contraceptives or — under an accommodation finalized in July — pass the obligation to their health insurers or third-party administrators.

The plaintiffs are primarily Christian colleges and charities that argue the coverage requirement and the federal government's accommodation violate their rights under the U.S. Religious Freedom Restoration Act by forcing them to participate in providing contraceptives that they believe are immoral.

“All we ask is that our rights not be taken away,” said Sr. Lorraine Marie Maguire, mother provincial of the Baltimore-based Catholic charity Little Sisters of the Poor, one of the organizations challenging the contraceptive mandate. “The government exempts large corporations, small businesses and other religious ministries from what they are imposing on us — we just want to keep serving the elderly poor as we have always done for 175 years”, noted in a statement released today.

In September, in Heartland Christian College et.Al. a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled in favor of religious nonprofits challenging the coverage requirement and the government's accommodation. The decision was the opposite of rulings handed down by seven other federal appeals courts.

Oral arguments on the consolidated cases likely will be held next spring.