Supreme Court remands contraception coverage case to lower courts

The Supreme Court has declined to rule in the case Zubik v. Burwell, instead leaving it up to lower courts to hash out a compromise over the Affordable Care Act's contraception coverage requirements for religiously affiliated employers.

The second major challenge to the ACA's birth control coverage mandate had argued that the government's exemption to the mandate--which defers the cost of birth control benefits to the organization's insurance company--still violates employers' religious freedom.

In a unanimous opinion issued Monday, the justices remanded the case to the respective United States Courts of Appeals for the Third, Fifth, Tenth and District of Columbia Circuits. "The Court expresses no view on the merits of the cases. In particular, the Court does not decide whether petitioners' religious exercise has been substantially burdened, whether the government has a compelling interest or whether the current regulations are the least restrictive means of serving that interest," the opinion states.

The Court had sought some form of compromise in the case following opening arguments in March, during which the justices--which number only eight due to Antonin Scalia's death--appeared headed toward a deadlock.

However, after the Court directed each side to submit briefs outlining a potential compromise, it became clear that neither was close to reaching a consensus. The petitioners suggested a scenario in which insurance companies could create separate plans to cover birth control, but the government deemed that proposal "unworkable."

Given the complexity of the case, the Court's opinion also emphasizes that the parties should be given sufficient time to arrive at an approach that protects the 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."

To learn more:
- here's the Court's opinion

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