The Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s crowning piece of legislation, was sent to a lower court for a review of the law’s contraception mandate.
U.S. Supreme Court observers called Monday morning’s decision a victory for an order of Catholic nuns known as “the Little Sisters of the Poor.” The nuns joined with other religious groups and challenged the law’s contraception mandate, objecting that groups must provide “abortifacients and contraceptives” to their employees.
The Little Sisters of the Poor claim the contraception provision of the ACA is an unfair burden.
The Supreme Court is currently operating with just eight justices following the death of Antonin Scalia in February. President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy, but Senate Republicans are blocking a confirmation hearing.
A six-page opinion, the high court indicated a compromise could not be reached following oral arguments last March. Objectors, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, claim their religious beliefs will be infringed upon if employees are offered free birth control.
"Given the gravity of the dispute and the substantial clarification and refinement in the positions of the parties, the parties...should be afforded 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,'" the court wrote.
"This is a game-changer," said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based group that has provided the order's legal representation. "The court has accepted the government's concession that it can get drugs to people without using the Little Sisters."
Closer to home, U.S. Congressman Ted Deutch (D-Boca Raton) said contraception coverage is an essential element of the law.
“It’s important that the Affordable Care Act continue to include contraception coverage. It can do so without violating an individual’s religious freedom, and today’s Supreme Court decision recognizes that this balance is achievable," Deutch said.