You'll recall after a firestorm erupted over the health care law's so called "contraception mandate" that the government created an "accommodation" for religious nonprofits. Under the "accommodation," the nonprofit groups can comply with the mandate by signing forms to designate that their insurers give out contraception, sterilization and abortion drugs.
When the "accommodation" was finalized in June, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a statement:
"Today's announcement reinforces our commitment to respect the concerns of houses of worship and other nonprofit religious organizations that object to contraceptive coverage while helping to ensure that women get the care they need, regardless of where they work."
But several of the religious groups say that having a third party provide the contraception is not acceptable. They argue that their religion forbids them not only from providing abortion drugs themselves but also forbids them from signing forms to designate and authorize others from giving out those drugs.
Because the mandate goes into effect for Jan. 1, they've asked the Supreme Court tonight to block enforcement of the contraceptive mandate until the lower courts have time to hear their appeals. Alternatively, some of the groups have asked the court to bypass the normal appeals process and take up the challenges now. The groups say that if they lose they will be forced to either sign the form (that allows the insurers to provide the drugs) or pay huge fines.
Mark L. Rienzi, a lawyer for one group called the Little Sister's of the Poor, said tonight, "This is not a happy New Year's Eve for the Little Sisters of the Poor. The government has forced the Sisters to make a terrible choice. By New Year's, they must either sign forms their religion tells them not to sign, or face crushing fines from their government."