The Supreme Court decided the best decision was no decision when trying to find a solution to a dispute about the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) birth control coverage. Several religious nonprofits including faith based hospitals and universities were seeking exemption from the ACA policy which states that employers must provide contraceptive coverage to their employees. To protect what they believed was their religious freedom, they sued the federal government on the grounds of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Since the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in February, the Court has been shorthanded. In what was widely viewed as an effort to avoid a potential 4-4 deadlock, the Supreme Court decided to send the case back to the lower courts.
Essentially, they told the lower courts to try to figure out a solution that would please both parties. They stated, "The Court expresses no view on the merits of the cases."
Religious employers such as the Little Sisters of the Poor order of nuns, don't believe they should have to provide coverage for women to easily access birth control. They argue that having to do so would violate their religious beliefs.
Meanwhile, Obamacare mandates that women should have equal access to healthcare, which includes contraceptives. Since the ACA was passed, over 100 lawsuits have been filed against the federal government.
Currently, religious nonprofits that don't wish to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees must opt out. They can do this by filling out a form to let the government know their opposition. The government will then step in to provide employees birth control access directly through the employer's insurer. This way, the employer would not have to pay for the contraceptives themselves.
Religious institutions believe this still violates their religious rights because by opting out, they are still involved. They don't want to have any part in the process. Instead, they want to be exempt from the birth control requirement entirely.
Which side came out on top?
Although some see the ruling as a setback for the ACA, both sides see it as a win to an extent. After all, the Supreme Court opinion vetoed seven rulings by lower appeals courts that sided with the government. The opinion also stated that the nonprofits can't be sued for not providing birth control coverage.
"From our point of view, this decision is a win for religious liberty and confirmation of what we've been saying all along," Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty told the Herald Times.
Despite this, some advocates for the government believe the Court ruled in their favor at least partially. The Court stated, "that women covered by petitioners' health plans 'receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage."
The Court offered a possible compromise to the lower courts. They said the lower courts should find a way where women can receive the medication they need, without involving the employer's consent.
Republicans claim they won't approve any Supreme Court nominees until after the presidential election. Thus, it's possible that future cases will result in a deadlock for the foreseeable future.
"I won't speculate as to why they punted, but my suspicion is if we had nine Supreme Court justices instead of eight there might have been a different outcome," Obama said.
Some believe this ruling is just a delay until the case ends up back in the Supreme Court.
Amy Gordon, Chicago-based co-chair at law firm McDermott Will & Emery L.L.P. told BusinessInsurance.com, “It’s questionable to me on how that’s going to resolve the issue seeing as how (the lower courts) were not able to agree in the first place."
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For more information on the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare, read our articles, "Which Type of Obamacare Plan is Right For You."