The Little Sisters and other plaintiffs, in their brief, outlined an acceptable alternative: when setting up their health plan with their insurer, they would express their wish for a health plan without coverage for the contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-causing drugs. The insurer would take note and offer employees "cost-free contraception coverage" on the side and outside the health plan.
For their part, "the Government has confirmed that the challenged procedures 'for employers with insured plans could be modified to operate in the manner posited in the Court's order while still ensuring that the affected women receive contraceptive coverage seamlessly, together with the rest of their health coverage," the statement read.
Because of the new developments in the case, the court then sent the group cases back to their respective federal courts – the Third, Fifth, Tenth, and D.C. Circuit Courts of Appeals.
"Given the gravity of the dispute and the substantial clarification and refinement in the positions of the parties, the parties on remand should be afforded an opportunity to arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners' religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners' health plans "receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage," the court stated.
The Supreme Court did not say if the government's mandate and "accommodation" violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Under that federal law passed in 1993, if the government action "substantially burdens" a person's free exercise of religion, the government must establish that it has a "compelling interest" for the action and that it is using the "least-restrictive means" of furthering that interest.
"In particular, the Court does not decide whether petitioners' religious exercise has been substantially burdened, whether the Government has a compelling interest, or whether the current regulations are the least restrictive means of serving that interest," the court stated, leaving that decision for the lower courts.
Because the Supreme Court's decision voided lower rulings on the mandate, it could ultimately affect the cases of numerous other plaintiffs challenging the regulation.
Michael Warsaw, chairman and CEO of EWTN Global Catholic Network, responded to the ruling with optimism. EWTN is among the plaintiffs who have lawsuits in the federal court system. CNA is a part of the EWTN family.
"Today's U.S. Supreme Court ruling reversing the decisions of four federal appellate courts on the HHS Mandate is a clear victory for EWTN and all of the plaintiffs who have spent the last several years fighting against the government's attempt to hijack our employer-sponsored health care plans in order to force us to provide contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization procedures," Warsaw said.
"With regard to EWTN's own case, today's ruling by the Supreme Court strikes down several of the key decisions upon which the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based its previous ruling against EWTN," he continued. "While we await further action by the 11th Circuit in the EWTN case, we are even more confident that we will prevail."