The Supreme Court on Monday threw out lower-court rulings that had required Christian employers to comply with a mandate in President Barack Obama’s healthcare law to provide female workers insurance covering birth control, but ducked a major ruling on the merits of the case.

The court’s unanimous action represented at least a short-term victory for the nonprofit employers, primarily Roman Catholic organizations, because it tossed out rulings in seven different cases that had endorsed the contraception mandate. The decision forces the lower courts to reconsider the dispute.

“The court expresses no view on the merits of the cases. In particular, the court does not decide whether petitioners’ religious exercise has been substantially burdened,” the unsigned ruling stated.

In a separate order, the court also sent six other cases on the same issue back to lower courts.

The compromise decision indicated that the court, which is evenly divided with four conservative justices and four liberals following the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in February, wanted to avoid a 4-4 split in the case. Such a decision would have affirmed the lower-court rulings that favored the administration but would not have provided a decision to be applied nationwide.

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