The Supreme Court Just Made An Important, Slightly Confusing Decision On Birth Control Coverage

The Supreme Court announced it would punt the birth control mandate case on Monday, so, in other words, it’s pushing the case back down to the lower courts to decide. The case in question, Zubik v. Burwell, stood as the latest challenge to Obamacare’s birth control mandate, which requires health insurers and employers to cover some contraceptive costs in health insurance plans for their employees. Naturally, this rubs people who personally believe the purpose of intercourse is procreation and that life begins at conception the wrong way, leading to conflict toward the end of 2015, and alas, here we are today.

The court asked both petitioners of religious nonprofits and the federal government on Monday “whether contraceptive coverage could be provided to petitioners’ employees, through petitioners’ insurance companies, without any such notice from petitioners,” aka whether or not female employees working for religious nonprofits could have the same access to contraception coverage as women with non-religious employers.

Religious petitioners and the federal government agreed this was “feasible,” leaving the details to the lower courts to iron out.

The ruling, while not clearly in favor of either side, was pleasing to some, like Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Moor stated:

“The Court has handed down a ruling that says to the government, there are ways to accommodate the religious convictions of the Little Sisters of the Poor, and Baptist organizations, and other Christian groups, without sacrificing their consciences. In some ways, this is something we ought to celebrate.”

And yet the SCOTUS decision was far from a victory for birth control opponents, as it took no stance on whether or not the birth control mandate “substantially burdens” the religious freedom of religious petitioners and the birth control mandate ultimately remains preserved.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg even wrote a separate concurring opinion, clarifying that “the decision in no way validates the religious groups’ position” and “was intended to preserve the contraceptive access of women who worked for those organizations,” Mother Jones reports.

Still, the reproductive rights crowd isn’t too happy.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, released a statement claiming that the SCOTUS decision really “only forces women and families to wait longer to learn who in this country has the ‘right’ to interfere with a woman’s personal health care decisions.”

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CREDIT: Paul Faith/Getty Images

“When a woman is able to access contraception, she can take control of her own life and plan her family when and how she chooses,” Hogue wrote. “Is it her boss, or is it her decision alone?”

Further, she pointed out how, if the lack of productivity in our hotly divided US Congress proves anything, it’s that the court’s decision to leave it to “both parties’ inclination to ‘compromise,'” probably isn’t exactly the best decision, especially when “compromise” isn’t something we’ve “seen from the anti-choice movement in a very long time.”

“No one should have to ask their boss for permission to get the health care they need, and women shouldn’t have to wait even longer for the courts to make that clear,” Hogue concluded.

And, as usual, Hogue made an important point. People who personally oppose contraception due to religious reasons can practice religious freedom by, oh, I don’t know, not using contraception. By dictating whether or not their employees can access contraception, they aren’t practicing religious freedom, but infringing on their employees’.

Still, the LA Times remains optimistic enough, writing that today’s decision actually “clears the way” for women with religious employers to get free birth control. And Gretchen Borchelt, vice president for reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center, even called the SCOTUS decision “good for women.”

“The government can now move forward to assure women have seamless access to the contraceptive coverage. We’re not happy there will still be more litigation, but this should pave the way for women to get full coverage,” Borchelt told the newspaper.

According to the unanimous decision by the justices, the Catholic charities who filed suit had agreed the female workers may “receive cost-free contraceptive coverage.”

Zubik v. Burwell first emerged when the nuns running the Little Sisters of the Poor, a network of nursing homes, wanted the right to deny employees the no-cost birth control coverage guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act.

According to Vox, the Obama administration offered religious nonprofits an exception allowing them to submit a form indicating their objection, and be exempt from direct involvement in providing birth control. This wasn’t enough for the nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who still felt Obamacare challenged their religious freedom. Catholic universities and hospitals are also under the belt of “religious nonprofits,” which makes Zubik v. Burwell even more influential than it appears.