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Supreme Court sends Obamacare contraceptive mandate case back to lower courts

Sister Loraine McGuire with Little Sisters of the Poor speaks to the media after Zubik v. Burwell, an appeal brought by Christian groups demanding full exemption from the requirement to provide insurance covering contraception under the Affordable Care Act, was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., March 23, 2016.

Reuters

The Supreme Court on Monday ducked issuing a major ruling on a challenge by Christian nonprofit employers to an Obamacare mandate, sending the case back to the lower courts.

The justices on Monday issued an unsigned opinion in a case surrounding the arrangement by the Obama administration to spare religious groups from having to pay for birth control for women covered under their health plans if they object, while ensuring that women covered under their plans can still obtain birth control.

The decision by the justices said that the parties involved should agree on an approach that accommodates religious exercise while at the same time ensure that women covered by health plans "receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage."

The outcome on Monday suggests the court lacked a majority for a significant ruling and is perhaps another example of how the court has been affected by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. The justices did not rule on the merits of whether that accommodation violated employers' religious rights.

Houses of worship and other religious institutions whose primary purpose is to spread the faith are exempt from the birth control requirement. Other faith-affiliated groups that oppose some or all contraception have to tell the government or their insurers that they object.

The groups argued that the administration already has carved out exemptions and encourages people who can't get contraceptives through their employers to use the health care exchanges that were created by the health care law and serve millions of people.

The administration contended that tens of thousands of women would be disadvantaged by a ruling for the groups.