Nuns Lose Court Fight Over Contraception Coverage For Lay Employees

Photo: Little Sisters of the Poor at court
Several members of the Little Sisters of the Poor were outside the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

A Denver nursing home run by nuns will have to make it possible for the federal government to provide contraception coverage to its lay employees, ruled the 10th Circuit Court Tuesday.

Under the religious exemption to the Affordable Care Act, groups like Denver’s Little Sisters of the Poor don’t have to directly cover contraception. But they do have to tell the government they won’t cover it. That allows officials to contract with an independent provider to make sure employees have access to birth control.

The nuns argued that just being required to alert the government that they are not covering contraception makes them complicit in the system that eventually provides it to their workers, thus violating their religious beliefs. The Catholic Church considers contraception sinful.

The three judge panel disagreed, saying the notice does not substantially burden the nuns’ free exercise of religion.

Lawyers for the Little Sisters of the Poor say they are reviewing the verdict and may try to appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court. The 10th Circuit ruling also covers two other religious organizations which provide the Little Sisters with their health coverage, Christian Brothers Services and Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust.

"Untold millions of people have managed to get contraceptives without involving nuns, and there is no reason the government cannot run its programs without hijacking the Little Sisters and their health plan," said Little Sisters of the Poor's lead attorney Mark Rienzi in a statement.