July 8 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that private employers with moral or religious objections can legally refuse to provide health coverage for birth control as mandated by the Affordable Care Act.
In a 7-2 decision, the court agreed with an argument by the Trump administration that it has authority to expand religious exemptions under the law.
The court's five conservative justices, led by Clarence Thomas, were joined by liberals Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan in the decision, which reversed a lower court decision that froze the administration's policy with a restraining order.
The high court agreed to hear the case after petitions by the administration and the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic religious order for women.
"For the past seven years, [the Little Sisters of the Poor] -- like many other religious objectors who have participated in the litigation and rulemakings leading up to today's decision -- have had to fight for the ability to continue in their noble work without violating their sincerely held religious beliefs," Thomas wrote for the majority. "After two decisions from this court and multiple failed regulatory attempts, the federal government has arrived at a solution that exempts the Little Sisters from the source of their complicity-based concerns -- the administratively imposed contraceptive mandate."
Previously, certain types of employers who objected to the mandate could opt out by shifting the burden onto their insurer or the government, as long as they gave notice of their objection. Other religious-minded employers not covered under the narrower exemption, including publicly traded companies and large universities, fought the requirement.
After President Donald Trump rolled back the mandate in 2017, attorneys general in New Jersey and Pennsylvania sued and complained that the states would have to cover the contraception costs.
"Today, for the first time, the court casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests in its zeal to secure religious rights to the nth degree," they wrote in dissent.
"This court leaves women workers to fend for themselves, to seek contraceptive coverage from sources other than their employer's insurer, and ... to pay for contraceptive services out of their own pockets. The Constitution's Free Exercise Clause, all agree, does not call for that imbalanced result."