Supreme Court Sends Notre Dame Contraception Mandate Challenge To Lower Court

North America, United States of America, Virginia, Washington DC
North America, United States of America, Virginia, Washington DC

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON, March 9 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday threw out an appeals court decision that went against the University of Notre Dame over its religious objections to the Obamacare health law's contraception requirement.

The justices asked the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its decision in favor of the Obama administration in light of the June 2014 Supreme Court ruling that allowed closely held corporations to seek exemptions from the provision.

The court's action means the February 2014 appeals court ruling that denied the South Bend, Indiana-based Roman Catholic university an injunction against the requirement has been wiped out.

The 2010 Affordable Care Act, known widely as Obamacare, requires employers to provide health insurance policies that cover preventive services for women including access to contraception and sterilization.

In the 2014 ruling, the high court said that Hobby Lobby Stores Ltd could, on religious grounds, seek exemptions from the contraception provision.

Days later, in a case similar to the Notre Dame dispute, the Supreme Court allowed a college in Illinois a temporary exemption while litigation continues.

Catholic groups say they should not have to pay for or facilitate access to contraception or abortion because of religious objections.

But courts that have considered the issue since then have found that a compromise aimed at nonprofits with religious affiliations, issued in 2013 and amended in August 2014, did not impose a substantial burden on the plaintiffs' religious beliefs. Religious rights are protected under a law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Notre Dame case was the only appeals court decision on that issue that pre-dated the Hobby Lobby ruling.

The compromise allows the groups to certify they are opting out, which then forces insurers to pick up the tab.

Notre Dame says the certification process still essentially forces the groups to authorize the coverage for its employees, even if they are not technically paying for it. Religious institutions are exempt from the contraception coverage requirement.

The case is Notre Dame v. Burwell, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 14-392. (Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

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