WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeSiteNews) – The Supreme Court today declined to hear a challenge to a New York rule requiring employers to pay for abortions, instead vacating a ruling that upheld the mandate and sending the case back to a state court for reconsideration.
A Monday order from the Supreme Court vacated a decision by the New York Court of Appeals that sided against a coalition of Christian charities suing over the abortion mandate. The brief order instructed the appellate court to re-examine the case, Diocese of Albany v. Emami, in light of a recent Supreme Court ruling favoring religious liberty.
Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch would have heard the case rather than remanding it.
The group of several religious charities petitioned the Supreme Court in April, stating that an abortion regulation issued by the New York State Department of Financial Services in 2017 forced them to violate their religious beliefs guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Under the rule, religious organizations that serve or employ people regardless of their faith must pay for “medically necessary abortions” in employee health insurance plans. The mandate covers abortions at least in cases of rape, incest, or fetal malformation, as well as in other cases as determined by a healthcare provider, according to the plaintiffs’ petition.
“The mandate thus appears to cover abortions of babies afflicted with Down Syndrome and other maladies,” the petition states.
Groups challenging the abortion mandate include the Catholic dioceses of Albany, Ogdensburg, and Brooklyn, Catholic Charities, the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm, several Protestant churches, and an order of monastic Anglican sisters.
Each of the organizations ministers to people of various backgrounds, like the Carmelite sisters, who operate an Albany nursing home, and the Anglican Sisterhood of Saint Mary, which works with local youth who lease their goats, according to Becket, a pro-freedom law firm representing the plaintiffs.
“But because they offer these services to people in their communities regardless of their faith background, the state holds that they must offer abortion services in their insurance plans — or else,” Becket said. Non-compliance would force the groups to eliminate their employees’ health insurance entirely, resulting in potentially millions of dollars in annual fines.
The Supreme Court order on Monday cited the court’s 9-0 Fulton v. Philadelphia ruling this summer, which held that Philadelphia officials could not deny contracts to Catholic Social Services due to the organization’s refusal to place foster children with homosexuals.
“CSS seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else,” wrote Chief Justice John Robert for the court. “The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless the agency agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents cannot survive strict scrutiny and violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.”
The justices remanded Diocese of Albany v. Emami to the New York Court of Appeals for further consideration in accordance with the unanimous decision.
Becket and the Christian organizations fighting the New York abortion mandate welcomed the Supreme Court’s order, which they said signals that the rule is now likely be struck down.
“We are gratified and grateful that the Supreme Court has recognized the serious constitutional concerns over New York State’s heavy-handed abortion mandate on religious employers,” Albany Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger said. “We are confident that now that the Court has ordered the case remanded for reconsideration in light of last year’s Fulton v. Philadelphia decision, the unconstitutional regulatory action taken by New York State will ultimately be completely overturned as incompatible with our country’s First Amendment guarantee of religious liberty,” he added.
“We believe that every person is made in the image of God,” Mother Miriam of the Sisterhood of Saint Mary said. “That’s why we believe in the sanctity of human life, and why we seek to serve those of all faiths — or no faith at all — in our community. We’re grateful that the Supreme Court has taken action in our case and hopeful that, this time around, the New York Court of Appeals will preserve our ability to serve and encourage our neighbors.”
“New York clearly learned nothing from the federal government’s own attempts to force nuns to pay for contraceptives and is now needlessly threatening charities because they believe in the dignity and humanity of every human person,” said Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket.
“Punishing faith groups for ministering to their local communities is cruel and counterproductive. We are thankful that the Supreme Court won’t allow the New York Court of Appeals’ bad ruling to be the last word on the right of religious ministries to serve New Yorkers of all faiths.”