ObamaCare Birth Control Ruling Hinges on One Word

'Hijacking,' says SCOTUSBlog
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 24, 2016 10:26 AM CDT
ObamaCare Birth Control Ruling Hinges on One Word
Nuns with the Little Sisters of The Poor rally outside the Supreme Court Wednesday.   (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The Supreme Court wrestled with a high-profile case on Wednesday—how far religious groups must go in helping employees gain access to birth control under ObamaCare. Based on the arguments, don't expect a clear resolution: The New York Times reports that a 4-4 tie is a "real possibility," an outcome that would not set national legal precedent but would affirm the four lower-court rulings under review. All of those rulings sided in favor of ObamaCare, but the upshot is that until a national precedent is set, "religious groups in different parts of the country would have conflicting obligations if they object to covering contraception." And the AP notes that the case could be re-argued anyway when a ninth justice joins the court. The linchpin of the case comes down to a single word—"hijacking," writes Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSBlog. It came up in various forms seven times during arguments, he observes.

Religious employers that oppose covering contraceptives accuse the government of "hijacking" their plans. The health care law allows such groups to opt out of providing birth-control coverage as long as they fill out a form and notify the government they are doing so. The government then steps in to make sure the coverage is provided. Religious groups say this workaround "still makes them complicit in providing contraception for their employees," notes NPR. John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas seem to agree, and, based on his skeptical questions and comments Wednesday, swing vote Anthony Kennedy does, too. "The church plans here, religious organization plans here, are, in effect, subsidizing the conduct that they deemed immoral," Kennedy said at one point. The justices could say as early as next week if they seem destined for a 4-4 tie, or wait until June, reports the AP. (More birth control stories.)

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