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U.S. Supreme Court sends HHS contraception case back to lower courts

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On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously sent the latest dispute over the Obama Administration’s contraception mandate back to the federal appeals courts to find a compromise between the two sides.

“The court expresses no view on the merits of the cases,” the justices’ order said. “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.”

Despite the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the right not to be forced to subsidize contraceptives two years ago in the Hobby Lobby case, the Obama Administration has been seeking ways to keep enforcing the mandate ever since under the guise of so-called compromises.

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In this case, a number of petitioners, including Priests for Life, Little Sisters of the Poor, and a number of religious colleges and universities, had sued for the same outright exemption from the mandate that Obamacare grants churches instead of the “compromise,” which ostensibly relieves them of direct responsibility for providing contraception, but still involves them with the third-party insurers and administrators who would be providing it.

The death of Justice Antonin Scalia this February left the Supreme Court without a majority to uphold the religious objectors’ conscience rights. A 4-4 ruling on the case’s merits would have upheld the lower courts’ rulings without setting binding precedent beyond those specific participants, but the various lower court rulings differed (as this case was a consolidation of similar cases from different plaintiffs). They also opted not to reschedule the case for when Scalia’s replacement is confirmed, which will likely not happen until the next president is in office.

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