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Supreme Court sends challenge to Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate back to lower court

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Supreme Court on Monday avoided issuing a major ruling on a challenge brought by religiously affiliated non-profit groups to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.

The justices, in a unanimous decision, wrote that they were not deciding the case on the merits but instead sent the case back down to the lower courts for opposing parties to work out a compromise.

The justices said that the Catholic charities and government attorneys have agreed in recent weeks that these women may “receive cost-free contraceptive coverage” without infringing the religious rights of the church-based employers.

Based on that understanding, the justices said they saw no need to rule now on the major legal questions raised by this dispute.

This was the fourth time the Supreme Court heard a challenge to the signature legislative achievement of the Obama administration, and the second case challenging the contraception mandate. In 2014, the Court ruled in favor of closely held for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby that objected to providing certain contraceptives.

The challenge to Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate came from religiously affiliated non-profit groups, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, who object to having to provide “abortifacients and contraceptives” to their employees.

The Obama administration offered the groups an accommodation meant to respect their religious liberty concerns, but the groups say that it is not good enough and still makes them complicit in committing a sin. They argue the accommodation forces them to violate their religious beliefs or pay ruinous fines in violation of federal law.

In its ruling Monday, the court said it is not deciding whether the religious exercise of the challengers has been substantially “burdened.”

At oral arguments in March, the justices seemed divided and a few days later issued an unusual order for more briefs suggesting that they were searching for a compromise.

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