No need to delay Obamacare birth control rule, administration says

WASHINGTON -- Obama administration lawyers Friday strongly urged Justice Sonia Sotomayor and the Supreme Court to drop an appeal from the Little Sisters of the Poor and other Catholic groups who object to the so-called contraceptive mandate in the new healthcare law.

Nonprofit religious charities already can “opt out” of the requirement to pay for insurance coverage for contraceptives and therefore have nothing to complain about, U.S. Solicitor Gen. Donald Verrilli told the court.

“With the stroke of their own pen," the nuns and other Catholic charities "can secure for themselves the relief they seek from this court, an exemption from the requirements of the contraceptive-coverage provision,” he wrote in a brief filed Friday morning. All the group needs to do is file a letter seeking an exemption, he said.

Moreover, because the nuns get their insurance coverage from another Catholic group that is also exempt from the rule, the nuns' employees and their family members “will not receive contraceptive coverage” once they file for the exemption.

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“Completion of that certification would result in the complete denial of coverage for the drugs and devices to which [they] object,” he wrote.

On New Year’s Eve, several lower courts and Sotomayor granted a temporary reprieve to several Catholic groups, shielding them from requirements of the new law. Their lawyers had said the groups faced “draconian fines” if they failed to provide the contraceptive coverage to which they object, fines that would begin as soon as the law took effect.

But Verrilli said the appeals from those groups were based on a false premise, and that the healthcare law permits religious groups to opt out of paying for insurance coverage of contraceptives.

The justices are expected to consider the issue early next week and decide how to proceed.

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