On Monday, the Supreme Court decided not to rule on a case challenging the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, arguing mainly that it was unfair to religious nonprofits who might object to the concept of birth control altogether. Instead, the court decided in a unanimous opinion to send the case, Zubik v. Burwell, to a lower court to weigh in on alternative accommodations.

Talking Points Memo reports:

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It was consolidation of cases brought by religious nonprofits, including The Little Sister’s of the Poor, who objected to the work-around set up by the Obama administration to provide contraceptive coverage to employees of organizations opposed to birth control on religious grounds. The non-profits said that even filling out the form or sending a government the letter declaring their objections to covering birth control was a burden on their faith, because it set in motion the process by which their employees received the coverage from their insurers, though that coverage was not paid for or part of the employer plans. Lower courts’ have overwhelmingly rejected the challengers’ argument that the workaround violated 1993’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), though one appeals court ruled in their favor. (That case was not among those consolidated for the Supreme Court).

The decision to pass the case down allowed the court to avoid a potential split decision.

“Given the gravity of the dispute and the substantial clarification and refinement in the positions of the parties, the parties on remand should be afforded an opportunity to arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans ‘receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage,” the ruling read.

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“The Court expresses no view on the merits of the cases. In particular, the Court does not decide whether petitioners’ religious exercise has been substantially burdened, whether the Government has a compelling interest, or whether the current regulations are the least restrictive means of serving that interest.”

In a statement, NARAL condemned the non-decision: “In punting today, the Supreme Court only forces women and families to wait longer to learn who in this country has the ‘right’ to interfere with a woman’s personal health care decisions. Is it her boss, or is it her decision alone?”

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Great to see our judicial branch operating so seamlessly and efficiently!


Image via Getty.