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Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Little Sisters of the Poor religious freedom case

Little Sisters of the Poor

Today, the Little Sisters of the Poor, a religious order of Catholic sisters which provides compassionate residential care to elderly men and women across the country, headed to the Supreme Court for oral arguments heard by telephone, defending themselves against a mandate requiring them to pay for contraceptives.

In 2011, President Obama’s Affordable Care Act required all employers to provide contraceptive and potentially abortifacient drugs as part of their insurance plans, or pay millions of dollars as a financial penalty. A narrow exemption was provided for churches, but this exemption excluded “faith-based ministries, hospitals, universities, and social service agencies,” according to a Wall Street Journal op-ed written by Helen Alvaré. The Sisters took their case requesting a religious exemption all the way to the Supreme Court. In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Little Sisters, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also subsequently issued a new rule exempting all religious nonprofits from the contraceptive mandate.

READ: Five years later, four Christian universities win against contraceptive mandate

However, several states, including Pennsylvania and California, once again sued to force the Sisters to provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plans against their Catholic beliefs.

The Sisters are represented by the Becket Fund, a “non-profit, nonpartisan law firm that protects the free expression of all religious traditions – from (A)nglicans to (Z)oroastrians,” according to the group’s Twitter page. Legislators, social commentators, and leaders from nonprofits across the country chimed in on Twitter, encouraging the Supreme Court justices to #letthemserve, saying “Help a sister out!” and “Their stand for religious freedom is a stand for all of us.”

As Helen Alvaré pointed out in her op-ed, “Anyone who doesn’t like her employer’s insurance offerings can now get a plan on the ObamaCare exchanges. Nurx and Planned Parenthood have found ways to prescribe birth control online and have it delivered to your door. It has never been easier or more affordable to obtain contraceptives.” It’s crystal clear that the lawsuit is less about actual women and more about ideology and an attack on religious freedom since “[t]hose who oppose the Little Sisters of the Poor still can’t identify one woman who can’t get contraceptives without help from Catholic nuns.”

 

Perhaps most tellingly, a win for the Sisters in court would not change the status quo because, Alvaré says, “The Little Sisters have never subsidized a single birth-control pill or intrauterine device. They have never covered contraceptives in their health plan. So should the court rule in their favor in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, no woman would lose coverage.”

In a press release, Becket Fund president Mark Rienzi was hopeful for a victory, saying, “The Court has ruled in the Little Sisters’ favor twice before, recognizing what was obvious from the very beginning—that the federal government doesn’t need nuns to help it distribute contraceptives and that forcing them to participate is plainly unconstitutional. We hope that the Supreme Court ends this litigation once and for all.”

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