Published On: Mon, May 16th, 2016

Supreme Court won’t rule in Obamacare mandate in Nuns case

The U.S. Supreme Court chose not to make a ruling in Zubik v. Burwell about whether the Obama administration’s controversial HHS mandate violated federal law. This decision sends the case back to U.S. Appeals Courts, telling the government and the plaintiffs to work together and find a compromise that would allow the government to provide contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization to all females without a co-pay while not requiring religious employers to take any active role in the coverage.

There have been several conflicting rulings from the appeals courts as many hoped the justices would rule on whether the controversial regulations implemented by the Obama administration violates the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), especially in the way it may “hijack” the employers’ plans to provide coverage that violates their faith.

gavel judge court case ruling

photo by Okan Caliskan via Pixabay

After the death of Justice Antonin Scalia this year, the argument largely came down to the specific mechanism that religious employers used to opt out of the HHS mandate.

Several petitions, particularly the Little Sisters of the Poor, objected to signing a form that signaled their opposition to providing the contraception.

Since insurance companies use that affidavit to provide women contraception, including potentially abortion-inducing “birth control” methods such as the IUD, the nuns argued that signing the paper amounted to their cooperation in sin.

The court, seeming to admit it is hopelessly deadlocked, sought to avoid a 4-4 tie that would leave all the lower courts’ orders in place.

This result would have made the opt-out procedure legal in some places and illegal in others.

The brief filed by religious petitioners, of both Protestant and Catholic backgrounds, said they were willing to accept the mandate as long as they “need to do nothing more than contract for a plan that does not include coverage for some or all forms of contraception.”

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli wrote that the present method for religious employers to opt out “could be modified to operate in the manner” that respects conscience concerns, “while still ensuring that the affected women receive contraceptive coverage seamlessly.”

The parties in each of the separate cases will now return to their respective appeals courts to hammer out a new way of offering coverage, while the substance of the HHS mandate goes without judicial review – at least, for now.

“Nothing in this opinion, or in the opinions or orders of the courts below, is to affect the ability of the [g]overnment to ensure that women covered by petitioners’ health plans ‘obtain, without cost, the full range of FDA approved contraceptives,’” the justices wrote.

2012 headline from CNN

2012 headline from CNN


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