Pepsi, Visa, and Chevron are Exempt From HHS Mandate, But Little Sisters of the Poor are Not

National   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Mar 23, 2016   |   5:23PM   |   Washington, DC

The Obama administration has been unrelenting in its fight to force a group of Catholic nuns to violate their beliefs and pay for abortion-causing drugs and contraception, arguing that they are essential health care services.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard an appeal from the Little Sisters of the Poor and 37 other religious groups to stop the Obama administration from forcing them to comply with Obamacare’s abortion mandate. The mandate compels religious groups to pay for birth control, drugs that may cause abortions and sterilization. Without relief, the Little Sisters would face millions of dollars in IRS fines.

While arguing publicly that religious groups should be forced to comply with the HHS Mandate, the Obama administration quietly exempted several major companies from those same rules. Lawyers for the religious groups used this point to argue against the federal government’s overarching mandate on Wednesday.

The Catholic News Agency reports more about the situation:

Meanwhile, some other health plans have been “grandfathered” in and are not subject to the mandate. These include plans offered by ExxonMobil, Chevron, Visa Inc. and PepsiCo.

Furthermore, the U.S. Military includes a family insurance plan that does not offer the mandated services.

And, according to the website, one in three Americans do not have a health plan that satisfies the mandate. The Little Sisters say that since so many employers are offered exemptions under various justifications, there is no reason that they should not receive a religious exemption as well.

While a narrow religious exemption to the mandate is offered to houses of worship and their affiliates, many faith-based charities and non-profits – including the Little Sisters – do not qualify due to a stipulation in tax law that was used to determine religious exemptions.

Instead, the administration has offered what it calls an “accommodation” whereby religious non-profits such as the Little Sisters can notify the government of their moral objections, and government in turn will order the issuer of their health plan to provide the coverage.

However, the Little Sisters argue that this still violates their religious beliefs because they would ultimately be facilitating access to services they believe are immoral. Failure to comply with the mandate would mean fines estimated at $2.5 million per year – 40 percent of what the sisters beg for annually to run their ministry.

These facts seem to point to a more underhanded motive than simply ensuring Americans have “essential health care” services. Some have speculated that the Obama administration’s real motives in the case are to chip away at religious liberty in the U.S.

The case, Zubik v. Burwell, involves 37 religious nonprofits such as charities and universities that say the HHS mandate violates their religious beliefs. They say the religious accommodation the Obama administration put together still makes them complicit in covering the abortion-causing drugs.

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“Hijacking. It seems to me that’s an accurate description of what the government wants to do,” Chief Justice John Roberts said during oral arguments on Wednesday.

With only eight judges on the Supreme Court, if the high court splits 4-4, then the lower ruling favoring the Little Sisters will stand and the Obama administration would lose its case. But because many of the organizations involved in today’s case had lower court rulings against them, they would be forced to obey the mandate if the Supreme Court ties.

Previously, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily protected the Little Sisters from the mandate. The Little Sisters then went before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to extend that protection, but a panel of the appeals court ruled against them. Eventually the full appeals court ruled in the nuns’ favor, but the Obama administration appealed.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns who care for the elderly poor, urged the Supreme Court to protect them from $70 million dollars in government fines for refusing to violate their Catholic faith. This is the second time the Sisters have been forced to ask the Supreme Court for protection from the government’s efforts to make them to provide contraceptives to their employees.

“The Little Sisters spend their lives taking care of the neediest members of our society —that is work our government should applaud, not punish,” said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “The Little Sisters should not have to fight their own government to get an exemption it has already given to thousands of other employers, including big companies like Exxon and Pepsi Cola Bottling Company.”

Their Supreme Court brief explains why the government does not need the Little Sisters at all: because it already has many other ways to get contraceptive coverage to those who want it. “Indeed, the government has invested billions of dollars in creating exchanges for the express purpose of making it easy to obtain qualifying insurance when it is not available through an employer.  The government cannot explain why those exchanges suffice to advance its goal of getting contraceptive coverage to the tens of millions of [other] people . . .  yet are not good enough” for the employees of the Little Sisters.

Previously, the Supreme Court ruled that the Christian-run Hobby Lobby doesn’t have to obey the HHS mandate that is a part of Obamacare that requires businesses to pay for abortion causing drugs in their employee health care plans.