For years, the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns, have been fighting an Obamacare mandate that would require them to fund birth control that could potentially cause an abortion, like the morning-after pill. As this is a direct contradiction of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, the Little Sisters are opposed and have been fighting the mandate on the basis of religious liberty. In 2017, it appeared that they finally had found a reprieve when the Trump administration expanded religious exemptions for the mandate… only for pro-abortion attorneys in 13 states to file lawsuits to overturn the new religious exemption. And today, a federal judge ruled against the Trump administration and the Little Sisters in another ruling that is sure to be a disappointment to pro-lifers and defenders of religious liberty alike.
U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam, Jr. ruled that the administration’s expanded religious exemptions would harm the 13 states that sued, which were mostly Democratic states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington). Washington, D.C. also joined in the lawsuit, and Gilliam’s ruling blocks the religious exemption from affecting the 13 states and Washington, D.C., which now means that the Little Sisters of the Poor, along with other religious employers, will be forced to fund birth control methods that could potentially cause abortions. Another court in Pennsylvania is also considering a request, and if the court rules against the administration there, it could potentially have national implications.
The Department of Health and Human Services responded by slamming Gilliam’s decision in a statement. “No American should be forced to violate his or her own conscience in order to abide by the laws and regulations governing our health care system,” Caitlin Oakley, spokeswoman for Health and Human Services, said. “The final rules affirm the Trump Administration’s commitment to upholding the freedoms afforded all Americans under our Constitution.”
Mark Rienzi is the president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has been representing the Little Sisters of the Poor. In a statement provided to Live Action News, he promised to keep fighting. “Yesterday’s decision will allow politicians to threaten the rights of religious women like the Little Sisters of the Poor,” Rienzi said. “Now the Little Sisters have no choice but to keep fighting this unnecessary fight so they can protect their right to focus on caring for the poor. We are confident this decision will be overturned.”
In a previous statement, Mother Loraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters said they simply want to focus on their mission, and cannot because of this legal battle. “We just want to be able to continue our religious mission of caring for the elderly poor as we have over 175 years,” she said. “We pray that these state governments will leave us alone and let us do our work in peace.”