Supreme Court Refuses to Rule on Contraception Mandate

Little Sisters of the Poor HHS contraception mandate case was sent back to lower courts with instruction to find a compromise that both parties can agree on.

The eight member United States Supreme Court announced yesterday that it would not rule on the high profile Little Sisters of the Poor Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate case involving the Affordable Healthcare Act’s mandatory birth control coverage. In an unsigned opinion (unanimous), the Court sent the lawsuit back to the lower Federal Courts, instructing them to try to craft a compromise that is acceptable to all the parties involved.

Supreme Court Refuses to Rule on Contraception Mandate[/tweetthis]

The Zubik v. Burwell litigation, the case currently before the court, involves seven separate cases, all filed by religiously affiliated nonprofit employers like social service organizations, colleges, and hospitals, all of whom who do not want any part in providing their employees with access to contraception. They join the Little Sisters of the Poor to make up a total of more than 300 plaintiffs. According to the Affordable Care Act, it is mandatory for the employer's health care plans to cover the cost of birth control for their employees, that is, the employers would have to provide contraceptive services. For all religious employers women are provided contraceptive coverage through a third party.

The Obama administration, while crafting the rules, has been mindful of concerns over religious freedom. That is why they also included the clause that a religious institution that does not want to provide its employees with contraceptives, can notify the government or their insurer in writing regarding their objection, and the government would provide coverage free of cost to the employers. However, most of the institutions are not willing to take into consideration this sensible arrangement because according to them, it still violates their religious freedom, because by issuing their objection in writing, they are making themselves complicit in the provision of birth control.

The fact is that eight Federal Courts have already rejected this claim made by the plaintiffs. According to them, such a minor requirement did not place a huge and substantial burden on the objector's religious freedom. According to Judge Cornelia Pillard, “the freedom of religious exercise is protected but not absolute,” under both the Constitution and the federal law.

The death of Antonin Scalia, who has been the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, has practically crippled the Supreme Court. This the second high-profile case that the Supreme Court failed to reach a decision since Scalia's death. President Obama, in an interview given to BuzzFeed News, said that if the Supreme Court had all the nine justices instead of the current eight, the outcome would have been different. The reason why there is no 9th justice as of now is because of the Republican-dominated senate’s reluctance to confirm another of Obama’s Supreme Court nominees.


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