Supreme Court rejects religious groups' challenge of New York abortion rule

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Washington — The Supreme Court on Monday kicked back to the lower courts a bid by religious organizations in New York who challenged a state regulation requiring employer health insurance plans to cover abortions.

In a brief order, the high court tossed out a state court ruling upholding the rule and sent the case back to the lower courts for further consideration in light of its decision in a religious freedom case involving Catholic Social Services, a foster care agency, last term. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch said they would have heard the charities' appeal.

The dispute was brought by a number of religious organizations, led by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, against the state of New York over the 2017 regulation that mandates group health insurance plans cover abortions that are “medically necessary,” which includes at least abortions in cases of rape, incest or fetal malformation. While the rule provides an exemption for certain religious organizations, those that serve a broader mission, such as serving the poor, are required to adhere to the mandate.

The organizations filed suit in New York state court to block the abortion mandate, arguing it forces them to violate the First Amendment and state laws. But the state's top court upheld the regulation, finding it is a “neutral and generally applicable” law under Supreme Court precedent.

“It cannot be that the Constitution allows New York yo require religious groups to participate in a practice so fundamentally in conflict with their religious beliefs,” the religious groups told the Supreme Court in a filing.

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