Zubik Decision Leaves Uncertainty about Contraception Coverage Accommodation

In May, the US Supreme Court issued a unanimous verdict in the Zubik v. Burwell case brought by a group of seven plaintiffs, including two dioceses and the Little Sisters of the Poor. According to the New York Times, the Supreme Court decided that it would not rule on the requirement that employer health plans must offer contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act. This decision would be left to lower courts. The plaintiffs had objected to an accommodation that allowed them to fill out a form notifying they would not provide the coverage.

The open-ended opinion expressed hope for a future compromise that “accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans receive full and equal health coverage.” But the ultimate impact of Zubik is unclear, given that different camps claimed a victory.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the court’s opinion “wipes away the bad decisions that so many of our charitable ministries were appealing…” Kurtz also pledged that the “USCCB will continue its opposition to the HHS mandate in all three branches of government.” Meanwhile, ScotusBlog asserted that the decision “cleared the way for the government to promptly provide no-cost access to contraceptives for employees and students of non-profit religious hospitals, charities, and colleges.”

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, stated that the Supreme Court had abandoned workers’ consciences by having “punted the decision to lower courts.”

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