Court clears way for birth control access
on Jun 29, 2015 at 4:37 pm
Continuing to make sure that female employees and students have access to birth control, but that religious non-profit organizations where those women work or study do not have to provide it, the Supreme Court took action Monday on a case that is developing for next Term.
In a two-page order, the Court turned aside requests by Roman Catholic colleges, charities, and other non-profits in Pennsylvania to keep on hold a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, rejecting those groups’ challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., had temporarily put that ruling on hold last April until further legal papers were filed, but had taken no further action since.
The new order clears the way for the Third Circuit’s decision to go into effect, but it contains two sets of requirements. (The requirements parallel what the Court had done last year in the separate case of Wheaton College, a religious institution in Illinois.)
First, the religious groups must provide some type of notice to the federal Department of Health and Human Services that they want and are entitled to a religious exemption from the mandate. If the groups do that, the government may not enforce the mandate directly against them, while the Court is pondering whether to review the case itself.
Second, the women who are employed by or are students at the religious organizations are assured that they will have access, at no cost to them, of birth control methods and devices approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. The government can go ahead, the Court made clear, and make arrangements for the health insurance plans in effect for the religious groups to assure free access to the contraceptives. The government will reimburse the cost.
The Court’s order stressed that it did not mean that the Justices were ruling on the correctness of the Third Circuit decision. That will be the issue if the Court grants review in the pending case of Zubik v. Burwell (docket 14-1418).
Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that she would simply have denied the groups’ plea for any kind of order affecting the Third Circuit ruling.