Supreme Court Looks for Alternatives in Birth Control Challenge

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Supreme Court Looks for Alternatives in Birth Control Challenge

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The Roberts Court last week heard oral arguments in Zubik v. Burwell. The justices appeared evenly divided on whether the accommodation process violated plaintiffs' religious freedom rights.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered attorneys in Zubik v. Burwell, the case challenging the Obama administration’s process for accommodating religious objections to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, to file additional briefings on ways the administration could provide contraception coverage without requiring institutions to notify the government of their religious objections.

The plaintiffs in Zubik are religiously affiliated nonprofits such as universities and nursing homes. The plaintiffs object on religious grounds to contraception, and do not want to complete the process for obtaining an accommodation as set forth in the law.

The Roberts Court last week heard oral arguments in the case. The justices appeared evenly divided on whether the accommodation process violated the plaintiffs’ religious freedom rights.

Tuesday’s order appears designed to try and break that deadlock. The order directs the parties “to address whether contraceptive coverage could be provided to petitioners’ employees, through petitioners’ insurance companies, without any such notice from petitioners.”

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The lengths to which religious objectors need to go to participate in the accommodation process was a critical point of disagreement in last week’s Supreme Court arguments. Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that any notification was a violation of their religious rights.

The two-page order directs all briefing to be completed by April 20, but does not indicate whether the Court will order an additional hearing in the case following its decision in the matter, which will likely be released in June.