Kicking the can down the road?
In a potentially landmark case pitting access to birth control against religious freedom, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has issued a decision that is the judicial equivalent of saying, “we can’t decide – y’all work it out for yourselves.”
The case was a response to the Obamacare birth control mandate, which requires employers insuring their staff through Obamacare to also cover birth control. Although the mandate made exceptions for houses of worship, the government was still issuing fines to faith-based organizations such as schools, hospitals, and charities who were refusing to cover contraception because doing so would conflict with their religious views.
Putting the pressure back on the states
Two dozen such organizations brought the case to SCOTUS, who, in an even split amongst the eight judges, sent the case back to the lower courts this Monday. The result is that the rulings made by the regional appeals courts will stand, meaning that some states will continue to require employers to cover birth control, while other states will continue to let religious organizations and businesses opt out. A lot of women will be left waiting to find out whether or not their birth control will be covered.
The ruling also will allow the government to continue to provide contraception coverage to employees of religiously-affiliated groups, but will forgive the organizations of the fines they would have had to pay for refusing to cover birth control.
Hoping for a compromise
Although SCOTUS did not rule on the case, they did send their opinion back to the lower courts with a strong endorsement for a compromise that would cover employees’ birth control, but without the religious organizations having to provide it.
In an unsigned, three page opinion, the justices wrote that their decision would “afford an opportunity for the parties and Courts of Appeals to reconsider the parties’ arguments in light of petitioners’ new articulation of their religious objection an the Government’s clarification about what the existing regulations accomplish, how they might be amended, and what such an amendment would sacrifice.”