November 21, 2023
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Supreme Court clears way for religious organization workers to get free birth control


The U.S. Supreme Court announced May 16 that it would not rule on a case regarding religious organization workers’ access to free birth control. It is looking to lower courts to explore a compromise.

The Zubik v. Burwell case discusses whether freedom is infringed by an Obama administration rule regarding contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The case was facing a 4-4 deadlock following the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in February.

The justices said that Catholic charities and the government have come to an agreement that women may receive free contraceptive coverage without overstepping the rights of religious employers. Thus, the court did not need to rule now, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said in a statement.

“They have clarified that their religious exercise is not infringed where they need to do nothing more than contract for a plan that does not include coverage for some or all forms of contraception, even if their employees receive cost-free contraceptives from the same insurance company,” he said. “The government has confirmed that the challenged procedures for employers with insured plans could be modified to operate in the manner posited in the court’s order while still ensuring that the affected women receive contraceptive coverage seamlessly.”

The case joins actions brought by seven plaintiffs, including Thomas Aquinas College of Santa Paula. They argue their religious liberties are infringed by the administration’s rule, which states that they must provide contraceptive coverage or sign a form opting out of it. The opposition objected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which says that government mandates that significantly impact religious practices deserve additional deliberation.

“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 court said in the May 16 announcement.

About a week after the oral argument on March 23, the court asked both sides to outline possible compromises in an attempt to avoid an impasse. The case has incited much debate on women’s rights versus religious freedom.

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