The Supreme Court unanimously overturned the lower court rulings against the Little Sisters, ordered the government not to impose $70 million in fines to the Little Sisters, and said the lower courts should provide the government an opportunity “to arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates the petitioners' religious beliefs.”
The unanimous decision by the Supreme Court was a big win for the Little Sisters. But that does not mean anyone lost. As the Little Sisters have argued all along, the ruling in no way bars the government from providing these services to women who want them as long as the government stops trying to take over the Little Sisters' health plan. In fact, any alternative delivery method the government chooses would likely be able to be applied—not only to women in religious plans—but to the tens of millions of women in corporate and government plans HHS had previously exempted from the mandate.
President Obama confirmed that the HHS mandate was unnecessary by affirming that the government was still able to providing the mandated services for free to any woman who wanted them even after the Court ruling protected the Little Sisters from complying with the mandate. The President’s willingness to acknowledge that the Little Sisters' religious objections have never threatened any woman’s access to contraception -- that women can get that coverage "right now" and can "continue" to get it even without a takeover of the Little Sisters' health plan -- was the natural outcome of the evolution of the government’s argument in this case.
Following oral arguments, the government admitted to the Court that it could provide the services in ways other than those required in the contraception mandate. It also admitted that the mandate required the Little Sisters’ participation and the use of their plan. This admission meant the Court did not need to decide on the merits of the government’s original argument that its interests should override the Little Sisters’ religious liberty. With the government’s admission, the path was cleared for the Supreme Court to tell the lower courts to reconsider their rulings in light of the government’s admissions and help ensure the government settled “on an approach that accommodates” the Little Sisters' beliefs.
Although the form a final solution takes will be finalized down the road, the unanimous decision by the Supreme Court to overturn the lower court decisions against the Little Sisters and protect religious providers from fines is a big win. And President Obama’s acknowledgment that the government can continue to provide these services without the Little Sisters and their health plan is a major affirmation of the Little Sisters' argument for the last five years that there were obviously solutions and never a need for this matter to have to go to Court. In light of the Court's decision and the President's statements, the Little Sisters are hopeful the government will quickly decide on a workable solution so the Little Sisters can return their full attention to their mission of serving the elderly poor.