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March 23, 2016

Supreme Court Appears Split on Contraceptive Mandate

A seemingly divided Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday morning in a closely watched challenge by religious nonprofits to the Affordable Care Act's mandate of contraceptive care for U.S. workers, The Washington Post reports.

The case involves several faith-based charities, universities, and other institutions that contend the requirement that employee health plans include birth-control coverage violates their religious liberty, even with a White House accommodation under which the government and private insurers pay for and provide such coverage if a faith group registers an objection to doing so in writing.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, the key swing vote, appeared during Wednesday's hearing to sympathize with plaintiffs' argument that the process amounts to “hijacking” their insurance plans to provide services that conflict with their religious beliefs. The court's four liberals are expected to support the government's contention that the rule does not substantially burden nonprofits' exercise of their religion.

Should Justice Kennedy side with the liberals, the contraceptive mandate and the opt-out would become national policy. If he does not, the court, shorthanded since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, would likely deadlock 4-4, leaving in place divergent lower-court rulings and meaning the Obamacare provision would be carried out only in parts of the country where it has been judicially upheld.