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Supreme Court withholds ruling on 'contraceptive mandate' and business' religious beliefs

The U.S. Supreme Court punted on a challenge by religious nonprofit groups to the Obamacare contraception mandate, sending the case back to  lower courts to allow the parties to work out a compromise among themselves.

The nonprofit groups challenged an “opt-out” provision of the law which allowed such nonprofits to avoid providing no-cost contraception to employees only if the groups signed a form indicating a religious objection. The groups argued that requirement made them complicit in providing contraception against their religious beliefs. 

Today’s court ruling is the latest twist in an unusual case, which was argued before the court shortly after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, which left open the possibility of a 4-4 split.

After arguments, the court made the unusual move of ordering the federal government and the nonprofits to submit supplemental briefs in an effort to resolve the challenge, an apparent move to try to avoid a high court tie.

But today, rather than issuing a ruling, the justices ordered the parties to take another attempt to find their own solution.

The court said the move affords the parties “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.”

“Although there may still be areas of disagreement between the parties on issues of implementation, the importance of those areas of potential concern is uncertain, as is the necessity of this Court’s involvement at this point to resolve them,” the justices stated in an unsigned opinion.

It is a short-term victory for the religious nonprofits objecting to the health care law’s requirement because the lower court ruling against the groups was vacated and the government is prohibited from fining the groups while the case is being resolved. But the court also made clear in a separate order that the ruling does not “affect the ability of the Government to ensure that women covered by … health plans obtain, without cost, the full range of FDA approved contraceptives.

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