The U.S. Supreme Court in May took a pass on dealing with the important question of access to birth control, an action that could leave tens of thousands of women in limbo.
In a brief order issued for the case of Zubik v. Burwell, the high court vacated several cases before it dealing with employee access to birth control and sent them back to lower courts for more proceedings.
“The Supreme Court punted this case so hard it flew into next year,” said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, in a media statement. “That’s a shame. Birth control is a vital component of women’s health, and the result of today’s action is that it’s in limbo – once again.”
The cases concern religious non-profit groups that want to block their employees and students from receiving birth control coverage from third-party insurance companies, even though the religious groups don’t have to pay for it or otherwise provide it.
Under a compromise ironed out by the federal government, the non-profits can sign a short form indicating their objection to birth control. At that point, the federal government arranges for a third-party provider to offer it to women who want it. The non-profits insist that even filling out the form violates their rights.
A provision of the Affordable Care Act mandates that healthcare plans include birth control access. Houses of worship are exempt from the requirement.
“No other medication, medical procedure or medical device has been subject to this level of scrutiny by the Supreme Court,” Lynn said. “These never-ending legal challenges have given religious groups far too much power over the medical and reproductive decisions of their students and staff. It’s time to break that grip.”
The high court has had only eight members since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Observers believe the court deadlocked 4-4 over the issue. By the time the cases reach the court again, it’s likely that a ninth justice will have joined the bench.