Supreme Court will allow Third Circuit ruling to take effect

The Supreme Court has declined a request by Roman Catholic colleges, charities, and non-profits in Pennsylvania to delay enforcement of a ruling by the Third Circuit in the groups’ challenge of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) contraceptive mandate. In its order, the Court stressed that women employed by or students of the religious organizations may continue receiving all FDA-approved contraceptives without cost sharing, facilitated and reimbursed by the government.


The Most Reverend David A. Zubik, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, along with the Diocese and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Inc. (collectively, the Diocese) alleged that the contraception mandate violated the organizations’ rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) (42 U.S.C. §§2000bb et seq.). In 2013, a federal district court in Pennsylvania granted them a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the mandate (see Catholic dioceses granted preliminary injunction, Health Law Daily, November 26, 2013). In April 2015, the Court put a temporary hold on the Third Circuit’s ruling until further legal papers were filed (see Alito stymies Third Circuit, temporarily blocks enforcement of mandate, Health Reform WK-EDGE, April 22, 2015).


The order will allow the Third Circuit’s ruling to go into effect but sets forth two requirements until the Court decides what to do: (1) religious groups must provide notice to HHS if they want and are entitled to a religious exemption from the contraceptive mandate, and the government may not enforce the mandate directly against them; and (2) women who are employed by or are students at the religious organization are assured to have access with no cost-sharing, facilitated and reimbursed by the government, to birth control methods and devices approved by the FDA.

This order does not contain a ruling of whether the Third Circuit’s decision was correct, a determination which will be undertaken if the Court grants certiorari.


Justice Sonia Sotomayor included a note that she would have denied any application for an order affecting the Third Circuit’s ruling.