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Supreme Court rebuffs groups on contraceptives

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(Bloomberg) — The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to expand its review of the Obama administration’s push to guarantee insurance coverage for contraceptives, rejecting appeals from Catholic groups, including the archdiocese of Washington.

The justices left related rulings by two District of Columbia trial judges intact. In those rulings, the judges held that the Obama administration wasn’t violating the rights of the diocese, Catholic University or eight religious groups.

The appeals were longshots, because the parties involved took the unusual step of bypassing the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and sent their appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court already is considering whether for-profit companies can claim a religious exemption from the requirement that worker health plans include birth-control coverage. The court will rule by July in that case, which stems from a regulation created to implement Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

The two appeals acted on today concerned the mechanisms the administration devised so that religious nonprofit groups won’t have to pay for services they consider immoral. Under U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rules, those groups can sign a form attesting to their religious objections.

In some cases, the form then triggers a requirement that the insurance carrier offer the contraceptive coverage. Insurers can seek reimbursement from the federal government.

The Catholic groups say the arrangements are inadequate and still require them to facilitate coverage.

Even though the Supreme Court rejected the groups’ appeals, the court could still take up the same or similar cases after those cases go through appeals court review.

A federal appeals court in December shielded the groups from having to comply with the requirements while the litigation plays out. The Supreme Court later took a similar step in a case involving Little Sisters of the Poor, temporarily exempting the group as long as it informs federal officials of its views in writing.

The two cases affected by the order announced today are Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington v. Sebelius, 13-829, and Priests for Life v. Sebelius, 13-891.

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