The Little Sisters of the Poor took their fight to not have to pay for abortion drugs in their health care plan all the way to the Supreme Court and won. So that should be the end of the battle right? Not so much.
Last year, pro-abortion attorneys general in Pennsylvania and several other states filed lawsuits to overturn new religious protections issued by the Trump administration. The new rules protect the nuns and other religious employers from having to pay for drugs that may cause abortions in their employee health care plans.
A federal judge blocked the rule in response to the Pennsylvania lawsuit, but the Little Sisters appealed.
Earlier this year, the Catholic nuns achieved a victory at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals but pro-abortion states took their legal battle to another federal appeals court trying to force them to pay for abortion drugs. And today they won their battle:
A federal appeals court on Thursday blocked the Trump administration’s moral and religious exceptions to the Obamacare birth control mandate from going into effect in five states.
The ruling, from a split three-judge panel, upholds a preliminary injunction by the district court. The case was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit by the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic organization that cares for people in nursing homes, and by March for Life, an anti-abortion advocacy group.
The judges wrote in their opinion that the states “will incur significant costs as a result of their residents’ reduced access to contraceptive care.”
They wrote that women who don’t receive coverage for contraception will seek to have them paid for through state programs, and that if they cannot access it they will become pregnant, incurring more costs to states. They added that when women have a an unplanned child it can get in the way of their educational goals and ability to join the workforce, reducing their tax contributions.
California, Delaware, Virginia, Maryland, and New York, will not have to abide by the Trump administration’s rules that say employers do not have to pay for birth control coverage for their workers if they have any religious or moral objections to them. The change is set to take effect elsewhere in the U.S. at the beginning of 2019.
Before today’s ruling, attorneys for the Becket Fund explained the latest lawsuit the Sisters are dealing with:
“In State of California v. Little Sisters of the Poor, the State of California is suing to end a 2017 regulation that gives religious nonprofits, including the order of Catholic nuns, legal protection from the HHS mandate. The HHS mandate, center of a seven-year legal battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court, requires employers to provide services such as the week-after pill in their health care plans. The new regulation is a result of the 2016 Supreme Court decision in Zubik v. Burwell, which told HHS to revise its rules. Yet shortly after the regulation was passed, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra sued to take away the Little Sisters’ religious exemption, forcing the nuns back to court. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will hear arguments and decide whether the Little Sisters of the Poor can get back to their vital ministry of caring for the elderly poor.”
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At issue in the lawsuit is newly expanded exemptions to the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act HHS mandate. Under Obama, the mandate required that employers, including non-church religious organizations, cover all forms of contraception, from birth control pills to drugs and devices that may cause abortions at no cost to the employees.
While the Obama administration provided exceptions for huge companies such as Pepsi, Visa and ExxonMobile, it refused to provide religious exceptions for the nuns and other religious employers.
Pro-abortion state attorneys general did challenge the new exemptions issued under the Trump administration in 2017. The new exemptions “provide regulatory relief for religious objectors to Obamacare’s burdensome preventive services mandate, a position supported by the Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby.”
Mother Loraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters of the Poor expressed weariness at the four-year-long legal battles.
“We pray that soon this trying time will be over; that the court will rule as the Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that the government doesn’t need us to provide these services to women. As Little Sisters of the Poor, all we want is to follow our calling of serving the elderly poor,” Maguire said in a statement.
States that are suing over the new rule include California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Washington.
The Trump administration says the new rules are motivated by “our desire to bring to a close the more than five years of litigation” over the pro-abortion mandate. These include cases by the Little Sister of the Poor, Hobby Lobby and countless other religious organizations and businesses.