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Wheaton College won't have to fill out paperwork for employees' birth control

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

Wheaton College, an evangelical college in Illinois, doesn't need to fill out paperwork in order for insurers to cover the cost of its employees' birth control, the Supreme Court decided in a 6-3 order.

But the court said women will still be able to get contraceptives without co-pays or cost-sharing, as the law requires. Still, the college will not face a penalty because it did not fill out the required form.

The order indicates that the battle over birth control and Obamacare might not be over yet. Wheaton, like Hobby Lobby, has sued the Obama administration, arguing that the accommodation developed for religious nonprofits — that insurers, not employers, will pay for women's contraception coverage — isn't sufficient. The justices indicated in their order that they expect they might hear Wheaton's case in the future.

The accommodation requires nonprofits to fill out a federal form in order to qualify. Wheaton objects to that requirement, saying it implicates them when women obtain the morning-after pill or IUDs, forms of birth control that they consider tantamount to abortion.

The court said a letter to the federal government — which Wheaton has already sent — should be enough and the form is not necessary.

They cautioned that the order should not be read as a decision on the merits of Wheaton's argument against the accommodation. The court already indicated in its Hobby Lobby opinion that the accommodation for religious nonprofits doesn't violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Justice Samuel Alito wrote earlier this week:

[The government] could extend the accommodation that HHS has already established for religious nonprofit organizations to non-profit employers with religious objections to the contraceptive mandate. That accommodation does not impinge on the plaintiffs' religious beliefs that providing insurance coverage for the contraceptives at issue here violates their religion and it still serves HHS's stated interests.

The court's three female justices dissented sharply, saying the order means that the court is already going back on Alito's words. "Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today," Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, accusing the court of rewriting the Department of Health and Human Services' regulations.

"It may be that what troubles Wheaton is that it must participate in any process the end result of which might be the provision of contraceptives to its employees," Sotomayor later continued. "But that is far from a substantial burden on its free exercise of religion."