Supreme Court Seems to Seek Compromise in Medical Religious-Liberties Case

WASHINGTON (AP) -

A seemingly divided Supreme Court is exploring a possible compromise ruling in the dispute between faith-based groups and the Obama administration over medications that some religious groups oppose.

The justices on Tuesday directed both sides in the case that was argued last week to file a new round of legal briefs. They’re asked to examine the minimum the groups must do in order to register their objection to paying for these medications. The Obama administration wants to ensure that women covered under the groups’ health plans have access to these medications free of charge.

The Court set an April 20 deadline, suggesting that the justices want to resolve the case by late June. A 4-4 tie would leave different rules in place in different parts of the country because lower courts have issued conflicting rulings.

Another option is to leave the issue unsettled until a ninth justice is confirmed to take the place of Justice Antonin Scalia.

The administration devised what it has called a generous moral and financial buffer to spare the not-for-profit colleges, charities and advocacy groups from any involvement in the provision of medications to which they object on religious grounds.

But the groups complain that they remain complicit in the process because they have to object to the coverage of these medications, triggering the government’s hijacking of their health plans ­- a description Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy used during last week’s arguments.

In the order issued Tuesday, the Court asked both sides to discuss whether coverage of these medications could be provided without the groups having to object. The Court even suggested a way this could happen: The nonprofit groups could tell their insurance company at the time they arrange for health insurance that they don’t want to include some or all of this type of coverage, the Court said. Armed with that knowledge, the insurer would notify people covered by the health plan that this sort of coverage would come directly from the insurer, with no money from or involvement by the nonprofit’s health plan.