Supreme Court Orders N.Y. Court to Reconsider Ruling Requiring Health Plans to Cover Abortions

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. November 2, 2021

​The U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 1 ordered a New York court to reconsider a ruling that upheld a state regulation requiring employer health plans to cover abortions. We've gathered articles on the news from SHRM Online and other media outlets.

Lower Court Ruling Vacated

The Supreme Court vacated the ruling by the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, Third Department and sent it back to the lower court for review in light of a decision last term, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. Religious groups led by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany challenged the regulation. The mandate included narrow religious exemptions, but they covered only entities with the purpose of spreading religious values or that employ primarily people of the "same religious persuasion."


Narrow Religious Exemptions

The 2017 state regulation provides exemptions for religious entities with a "purpose" to "inculcate religious values," according to court papers. The plaintiffs argued that other religious organizations with broader missions—including nursing homes and charities—are forced to comply with the regulation.

(The Washington Times)

Last Term's Decision

In this case, the Supreme Court chose not to hear the legal challenge, although Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito Jr. and Neil Gorsuch voted in favor of reviewing it. The case instead will be reviewed by the lower court in light of Fulton.

In last term's Fulton decision, the Supreme Court justices unanimously sided with a Catholic foster service's legal challenge against the city of Philadelphia over a rule prohibiting discrimination against same-sex couples looking to become foster parents. In that case, the court found narrow grounds to rule that the organization Catholic Social Services (CSS) should not be denied an exemption to the nondiscrimination rule.

(The Hill)

Religious Leaders React to Supreme Court's Action

"We are confident that now that the court has ordered the case remanded for reconsideration in light of last [term]'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," said Bishop Edward Scharfenberger in a statement.  

(FOX News)

New York's Stance

In this case, New York argued in favor of the Supreme Court denying review, saying that the regulation applies only to insurance companies that provide insurance in New York. Employers don't have to provide health insurance, the state asserted. New York also said the diocese didn't raise its religious autonomy claims in the lower courts.


Business Groups Filed Brief in Fulton

In the lead-up to the Fulton decision, 32 companies—including Apple, Bristol Myers Squibb, Glaxo Smith Kline, Google, HP, Levi Strauss & Co., Macy's, New York Life, Nike, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp., Sun Life and Twitter—filed a friend-of-the-court brief last year opposing all forms of discrimination. They maintained that the exemption from the nondiscrimination law sought by CSS was likely to have an adverse impact on their businesses.

However, CSS' brief said no same-sex couples had approached CSS to adopt foster children. "This means that even though no same-sex couples had asked to work with the Catholic Church, the foster families that actually chose to work with the church cannot welcome new children into their homes at a time when Philadelphia has an admittedly urgent need for more foster parents," CSS' brief stated, before the Supreme Court ruled in its favor.

(SHRM Online)



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