The Supreme Court told a lower federal court Monday to reconsider a ruling that forced Notre Dame University to comply with Obamacare’s birth control mandate.
Justices vacated the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in light of their high court’s later decision in the high-profile “Hobby Lobby” case. In that instance, the justices said closely held corporations did not have to comply with the contraception rule if covered drugs or services violated their religious or moral beliefs.
Religious liberty groups hailed the decision as a significant strike against the mandate, an outgrowth of the Affordable Care Act that requires employers to insure contraceptives as part of their health plans.
“This is a major blow to the federal government’s contraception mandate. For the past year, the Notre Dame decision has been the centerpiece of the government’s effort to force religious ministries to violate their beliefs or pay fines to the IRS,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has led a nationwide charge against the mandate.
The Supreme Court’s move underscores the Obama administration’s years-long struggle to allay religious nonprofits’ objections to the mandate.
On two occasions, it has offered an olive branch to faith-based universities, charities and hospitals that object to the mandate. The opt-out clauses, which would absolve the nonprofits from paying for contraception while making sure their employees still obtained the drugs and services, have been rebuffed both times.
In November, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled, 3-0, against a pro-life ministry known as Priests for Life, saying the nonprofits can easily opt out by either writing a letter to the Health and Human Services Department or filling out a two-page form to document their objections.
It is likely an easier task than most compliance measures that the nonprofits face in the modern age, the judges said.
Many nonprofits have rejected the accommodations, saying the opt-out forms still make them complicit in offering contraceptives they object to, notably morning-after pills they equate with abortion.