Clarifying The Supreme Court’s Ruling Over Obamacare’s Contraceptive Mandate

Last Monday, the case over the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for contraceptive coverage reached the Supreme Court and for a bit sent a wave of confusion through those who were anticipating the results, when the cases were suddenly sent to the lower courts.

Many had appropriately predicted that a Justice appointed to fill in the spot left open by the death of Antonin Scalia would cause the courts to rule on an even split, which would result in sending their case(s) to the lower court.

CNN reported on the details of the unanimous decision made by the Justices on Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate.

“‘The court expressed no view on the merits of the cases,’ the justices wrote, adding that ‘given the gravity of the dispute’ and the fact that the parties have clarified their position during the court of the litigation the parties should be able to ‘arrive at an approach.’”

These were actually seven different lawsuits that made their way through the lower courts up to the Supreme Court Justices, eight of whom had sided with the Obama administration.

Supreme Court's decision on contraceptive care

When the courts sent the cases back asking that the lower courts come to a compromise, they also provided a helpful suggestion that if the employer refuses the coverage, they should take it up with the insurer and the insurer would correspond with the employee to see how they could provide coverage.

NARAL Pro-Choice America emailed newsletters Tuesday where they made a statement — which is also documented in the CNN article — expressing their disappointment.

“In punting today, the Supreme court only forced 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.”

Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal was interviewed on the PBS NewsHour Monday evening, about the two different sets of cases overlooked by the Supreme Court, and what they were perhaps trying to do when they “punted” those cases off.

One narrative constantly revisited on reports over any ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court has been over not only how the court would rule when they’re missing one Justice, but also over the fact that the Republican-held congress refuses to hold hearings in order to place a Obama-selected Justice in Scalia’s seat, fearing they would be too liberal.

That President Obama is not able to get a hearing for his nominee Merrick Garland, in the context of the recent (lack of) rulings, has been seen as a success by Republicans and a disappointment to supporters of the mandate.

In the fight against the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage, the CNN article quotes Mark Rienzi, a representative of a non-profit group, Little Sisters of the Poor, refusing to provide contraceptive coverage because they believe it is a sin to provide that care for their employees. He promised a victory in the case.

Little Sisters Of The Poor outside Supreme Court, May 2016

“There is still work to be done, but today’s decision indicates that we will ultimately prevail in court.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan also provided support to the group as the Congressional head of the Republican Party, as they have continued to try and pick away at the Affordable Care Act for years.

“‘The Little Sisters deserve more than a victory in court,’ House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement. ‘The Sisters deserve relief from this mandate, and an end to this ordeal. The administration should resolve this as soon as possible so the Sisters can go on serving the poor in peace as they have for so long. I am proud to stand with the Sisters, and all those who work every day to protect religious liberty.’”

As mentioned in the video, a majority of the lower courts have already sided with the administration, but decisions in many of these cases have been 50/50 and there has been a sense that it would happen again.

It is for this reason that the pro-contraceptive group is referring to the move by the Supreme Court as a “punt,” and it’s been said that it will likely be another year before the contraceptive case is reviewed by them again.

But overall, the Court appears to be adjusting to not rule on some of these cases for now, as best as they can, until the ninth seat is filled.

It’s also been said, however, that it’s very odd for either side to claim victories on any front as mentioned on the Diane Rehm Show this week.

During the first 10 minutes of the program, Julie Rovner, a senior correspondent for Kaiser Health News, went even further about the status of the ruling and what it really means to the parties involved, starting with the question of if “women [will] continue to get contraceptive coverage under this quirky compromise?”

“Some of them may actually get coverage for the first time because a lot of these, even though the lower courts had sided with the government, a lot of those requirements were stayed pending what the Supreme Court was going to do. So now, what the Supreme — what it says in the order, and it was a little bit hard to tease out, is that all of the organizations that have sued have done two things. They have notified the government of their objection, hence they sued.

“And in the process of the lawsuits moving forward, they’ve identified who their insurers are because the government had been saying, it’s not just that we need to know that you object. We need to know who your insurer is so we can arrange for coverage. Those two requirements have now been met so what the Supreme Court order said is that while you try to work this out, the government can go ahead and offer coverage to the employees of all of these organizations.”

So in this case, it’s hard to understand what the victory is here for Republicans and/or those against Obamacare, other than the possibility that the Supreme Court’s “punt” only delays the ruling, in favor of Obamacare’s mandate, for a year.

[Image by Tim Sackton via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0]