Will Trump End the Obamacare Mandate Forcing Little Sisters of the Poor to Fund Abortions?

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 25, 2017   |   5:39PM   |   Washington, DC

Will President Donald Trump end the Obamacare mandate that forced the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious organizations to fund abortions?

A legal filing the Trump Administration made with a federal appeals court doesn’t bring pro-life advocates any closer to the answer. Although pro-life voters supported Trump with the hopes that he would strike the mandate and protect the religious rights of pro-life advocates, the question is still up in the air.

According to the legal filing, the Trump Administration has asked for 60 more days to consider whether to end the lawsuit the Obama Administration is participating in to force the pro-life advocates to pay for abortion causing drugs or to continue it.

The Washington Post has more today on this a non decision:

The Justice Department has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for an additional 60 days to negotiate with East Texas Baptist University and several other religious groups objecting to a requirement to which they are morally opposed.

The request doesn’t necessarily mean Justice plans to continue defending the mandate — the agency could just be buying extra time as the new administration figures out its next move. A DOJ spokeswoman said Tuesday she had no comment on the request to the fifth circuit.

But the lack of clarity from the Trump administration is dismaying to several religious groups, including the Little Sisters of the Poor — a group of nuns — that fought the mandate for several years but expected an immediate reprieve under the GOP president. They believed either the DOJ would halt its appeal in the case or the administration would seek a rules change from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Trump promised during the campaign that he’d side with the mandate’s opponents, indicating to Catholic leaders that as president he would ensure the requirement was lifted.

“This litigation has gone on long enough,” the plaintiffs wrote in a petition last week to the Fifth Circuit. “It is time for the Department of Justice to move on, and to allow the court, the universities and other religious ministries to move on as well.”

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But Justice argued in its petition to the Fifth Circuit that it needs more time to litigate the case because numerous Cabinet and subcabinet positions in several federal agencies involved remain unfilled several months into the new administration.

“The issues presented by the Supreme Court’s remand order are complex,” the Justice Department wrote.

The Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion last May in the case involving the Little Sisters of the Poor, which have been fighting to not be forced to pay for abortion-causing drugs for their employees.

Without relief, the Little Sisters would face millions of dollars in IRS fines because they cannot comply with the government’s mandate that they give their employees free access to contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. Last year’s SCOTUS decision removed all of those threats of possible fines.

“The Court’s decision is a win for the Little Sisters and other groups who needed relief from draconian government fines,” the Becket Fund, the Little Sisters’ attorneys, told LifeNews.

“We are very encouraged by the Court’s decision, which is an important win for the Little Sisters. The Court has recognized that the government changed its position,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead Becket attorney for the Little Sisters of the Poor. “It is crucial that the Justices unanimously ordered the government not to impose these fines and indicated that the government doesn’t need any notice to figure out what should now be obvious—the Little Sisters respectfully object. There is still work to be done, but today’s decision indicates that we will ultimately prevail in court.”

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 its favor but the Obama administration appealed.

In a surprise move Monday, the Supreme Court punted on the case and, in a unanimous ruling, essentially told the lower courts to find a way to accommodate the Little Sisters so their conscience rights would not be violated. The Supreme Court sent the case back to lower courts to examine an alternative accommodation to the mandate.

The justices instructed the lower court to find tweaks in the HHS mandate to eliminate any faith-based concerns “while still ensuring that the affected women receive contraceptive coverage seamlessly.”

“Given the gravity of the dispute and the substantial clarification and refinement in the positions of the parties, the parties on remand should be afforded an opportunity to arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans ‘receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage,’” the justices wrote in the decision.

Pro-life advocates have complained that big corporations were protected from the mandate but Catholic nuns were not.