The mandate requires employers to offer health insurance plans that cover sterilization and contraception, including some drugs that may cause early abortions. Exemptions to the mandate were only granted to a small number of religious employers that meet the government's requirements of existing to teach religious values and primarily hiring and serving members of their own faith.
After a wave of protest from non-exempt individuals and organizations, the government announced a one-year "safe harbor" to delay the enforcement of the mandate against objecting non-profit religious groups. It said that it would create an "accommodation" for their religious freedom during this time.
However, critics have said that the early suggestions put forth by the Obama administration are inadequate. And while the plan for an accommodation was announced in February, the government has not yet issued its formal proposal with the details of the new rule, and its promise to create one was not legally binding.
More than 40 lawsuits have been filed against the mandate, drawing split rulings from district courts. Among for-profit businesses that are not protected by the safe harbor period, four out of six have been granted a preliminary injunction blocking the mandate from being enforced against them.
Several lawsuits filed by religious non-profit groups – including Belmont Abbey and Wheaton Colleges – were dismissed by district courts as premature because of the government's promise to amend the mandate.
However, a federal judge in New York determined on Dec. 6 that a case by the local archdiocese was mature despite the government's promise, noting, "There is no 'Trust us changes are coming' clause in the Constitution."