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- Asma Uddin, Director of Strategy, The Center for Islam and Religious Freedom
On June 27, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt. Whole Woman’s Health and other Texas abortion providers sued Texas officials seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against a state law requiring that physicians who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of the location where the abortion is performed, and requiring that abortion facilities satisfy the standards set for ambulatory surgical centers (“ASC”s). The district court enjoined enforcement of both requirements “as applied to all women seeking a previability abortion,” and as applied to abortion facilities in McAllen and El Paso, but dismissed claims that the law violated equal protection and effected an unlawful delegation.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the equal protection and unlawful delegation claims, and affirmed but modified the injunction of the ASC and admitting privileges requirements as applied to the McAllen facility. The Court vacated the district court’s injunction of the admitting privileges requirement as applied to “all women seeking a previability abortion,” however, and reversed the injunction of the ASC requirement on its face (and in the context of medication abortion), as well as the injunction of the admitting privileges and ASC requirements as applied to the El Paso facility. As a result, the Texas law was to remain in effect statewide--except for the ASC requirement as applied to the Whole Woman’s Health abortion facility in McAllen, and the admitting privileges requirement as applied to a particular doctor when working at the McAllen facility. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, stayed issuance of the mandate on the Fifth Circuit’s judgment, ultimately reversing that judgment by a vote of 5-3 and remanding the case.
Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court, holding that petitioners’ constitutional claims were not barred by res judicata, and that both the admitting-privileges and the ambulatory surgical-center requirements placed a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, constituted an undue burden on abortion access, and violated the Constitution. Justice Breyer’s majority opinion was joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Ginsburg filed a concurring opinion. Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion. Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion, in which Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas joined.
To discuss the case, we have Roger Severino, who is Director, DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation.
On June 27, 2016, the United States Supreme Court concluded its October 2015 term by issuing decisions in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, McDonnell v. United States, and Voisine v. United States. Our experts discussed the opinions and the term.
On May 16, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Zubik v. Burwell, the lead case in a consolidated series, with the other petitioners including Priests for Life, Southern Nazarene University, Geneva College, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington, East Texas Baptist University, and Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) requires that group health plans and health insurance issuers provide coverage for women’s “preventative care,” or face financial penalties. Although the ACA does not define preventative care, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), relying on the Institute of Medicine, determined that the term encompassed, among other things, all FDA-approved contraceptive methods, including drugs and devices that could induce an abortion. Federal regulations require petitioners to cover these contraceptives as part of their health plans, unless petitioners submit a form either to their insurer or to the Federal Government, stating that they object on religious grounds to providing contraceptive coverage. Petitioners resisted, asserting that submitting the notice substantially burdened the exercise of their religion, in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. The ensuing litigation yielded different outcomes in different U.S. Courts of Appeals, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari. Following oral argument, the Court requested supplemental briefing from the parties addressing “whether contraceptive coverage could be provided to petitioners’ employees, through petitioners’ insurance companies, without any such notice from petitioners.”
After receiving the supplemental briefs the Supreme Court vacated the judgments of the Courts of Appeals by a vote of 8-0 and remanded the cases to the Third, Fifth, Tenth, and D.C. Circuits, respectively. The Court’s per curiam opinion explained that “‘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.’” Furthermore, the Court indicated it was expressing no view on the merits of the cases and stated that “nothing in this opinion, or in the opinions or orders of the courts below, is to affect the ability of the Government to ensure that women covered by petitioners’ health plans ‘obtain, without cost, the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives.’" At the same time, the Court noted, throughout this litigation, petitioners had made the Government aware of their view that they meet “the requirements for exemption from the contraceptive coverage requirement on religious grounds” and nothing in the Court’s opinion, or in the opinions or orders of the courts below, “precludes the Government from relying on this notice, to the extent it considers it necessary, to facilitate the provision of full contraceptive coverage going forward.” And because the Government may rely on this notice, the Court indicated, “the Government may not impose taxes or penalties on petitioners for failure to provide the relevant notice.”
Justice Sotomayor issued a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Ginsburg.
To discuss the case, we have Roger Severino, who is Director, DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, The Heritage Foundation.
On Monday, May 16, the United States Supreme Court issued a per curium opinion resolving, for the time being, Zubik v. Burwell, the contraceptive mandate case. The decision is causing no small amount of confusion. Who won, and who lost? What is required of the plaintiffs in the case? What are the next steps in the litigation? Our expert answered these and other questions.