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Halt on controversial healthcare mandate for religious groups
ALBANY -- A controversial provision of the Affordable Care Act is on hold -- at least for now. Today would have been the day some religious organizations were required to offer free contraception coverage to employees. But a Supreme Court justice put a halt on it -- after receiving a request from an order of nuns in Colorado.
At the eleventh hour -- the nation's highest court bought a little more time for faith-based employers fighting against something they fundamentally disagreed with. Some of them would have had to offer birth control for employees under provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
"No government mandate should force, should compel, religious employers to violate their own mission statements," said Kathy Gallagher, Director of Pro-Life Activities for the New York State Catholic Conference.
The Conference calls the stay on the requirement, made by Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor, "good," and decided with "common sense." If the law went through today as planned, and employers didn't comply, they could have been forced to pay thousands of dollars in fines.
"This is a grave violation of religious liberty here," Gallagher said. "The First Amendment -- the first and foremost right of American citizens is being violated by this mandate."
But Family Planning Advocates of New York State takes the position that an organization's business is not the private health of its workers.
"To allow bosses to say what healthcare coverage you're entitled to under your health insurance is just the wrong direction," said Tracey Brooks, President of the organization.
Brooks says birth control medication is more than preventing pregnancy.
"It's a basic healthcare that women rely on for many reasons, whether it's to be able to economically support their families to the greatest, finish education, plan their pregnancies or utilize it for a medical purpose," she said.
The impact may be far-reaching away from Catholic organizations as well, one that the catholic conference says some business owners in the Capital Region are considering.
Gallagher said, "does a private employer forfeit their religious beliefs when they decide to open up a shop in America? It's a fundamental question."
Hobby Lobby stores are testing that aspect of the Affordable Care Act. The company is arguing against providing birth control to employees because it conflicts with company owners beliefs.
The Justice Department has until Friday to respond to Justice Sotomayor's decision.