WASHINGTON (CNS) – The Supreme Court returned a case to a lower court on November 1 asking it to reconsider a ruling against the Diocese of Albany, New York, and other religious groups who have challenged the state’s mandate requiring employers to provide abortion coverage in their employee health insurance plans.
In a brief order, the court said it would not consider the case in light of its ruling earlier this year in Fulton v. sex couples as foster parents. This case concluded that the city’s refusal to work with the agency violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court justices had considered the New York case four times before issuing the order setting aside the state court’s decision and returning the case to the lower court.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch said they would have considered the case on the merits, but lacked one of the four votes needed to do so.
But the referral of the case was seen as welcome news by the Bishop of Albany, Edward B. Scharfenberger, who said: “We are delighted and grateful that the Supreme Court has recognized the serious constitutional concerns regarding the mandate. New York State’s harsh abortion policy for religious employers. “
In a November 1 statement, he said he was confident that the lower court’s order to reconsider this case would reveal that “the unconstitutional regulatory action taken by New York State will ultimately be completely overturned as inconsistent with the former. amendment of our country guarantee of religious freedom.
State regulation was imposed on insurers in 2017 by the New York State Department of Financial Services.
He created an exemption for religious employers serving primarily those of their own faith, but the exemption did not extend to other religious groups in the state that have some type of outreach ministry such as Catholic charities; the Carmelite Sisters for the Elderly and Disabled, who run a retirement home in Albany; the Community of Saint Mary, an order of Anglican nuns dedicated to contemplative monastic life and to raising the awareness of young people; and Hilton’s First Bible Baptist Church.
Noel Francisco, the former Solicitor General of the United States, represented the Diocese of Albany in federal court where he said state regulations violated the Constitution. An intermediate state court of appeals upheld the state requirement as “neutral and generally enforceable”.
In a brief submitted to the Supreme Court asking the court to hear their case, religious groups said regulations to provide abortion coverage in their health plans place an undue burden on them. They also said it was unconstitutional to force them to “participate in a practice so fundamentally in conflict with their religious beliefs”.
In its brief, New York State said its mandate requires religious organizations to cover abortions if they are broad in scope or “if they employ or serve people of any faith.”
In January 2019, a state Supreme Court judge dismissed the Diocese of Albany’s challenge to the abortion coverage warrant, which the diocese appealed, and the following year, the Court of New York State’s appeal upheld the decision.
The Evangelist, Diocese of Albany newspaper, contributed to this report.
Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.