Religious freedom suffered another blow Monday at the hands of a judge nominated by President Barack Obama.
U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone of Pennsylvania blocked a new Trump administration rule Monday that protects religious employers from being forced to pay for drugs and devices that may cause abortions.
Her ruling applies to the whole country, whereas a California judge’s order on a similar case Sunday applied to 13 states. California Judge Haywood Gilliam also was a nominee of pro-abortion President Obama.
In 2017, pro-abortion attorneys general in Pennsylvania, California and several other states filed lawsuits to overturn new religious protections issued by the Trump administration. The new rules protect the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious employers from having to pay for birth control drugs and devices, including types that may cause abortions, in their employee health care plans under Obamacare.
Vox reports the Pennsylvania judge did not permanently block the rule; instead, she issued a temporary injunction while the lawsuit continues.
“The Final Rules allow more entities to stop providing contraceptive coverage, which will result in more women residents seeking contraceptive care through state-funded programs,” Beetlestone argued in her ruling, AFP reports.
“The Final Rules estimate that at least 70,500 women will lose coverage. In addition to pecuniary harm, the states also stand to suffer injury to their interest in protecting the safety and well-being of their citizens,” she continued.
However, lawyers with the Becket firm said the Pennsylvania and California attorneys general are going after the nuns’ charity but not the huge businesses that also received exceptions under Obamacare. The Obama administration carved out exemptions for huge corporations like ExxonMobil and PepsiCo but not for religious individuals like the Little Sisters.
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“The government had long exempted big businesses and even its own health care plans, yet California never sued the Obama administration for creating the exemptions that reach tens of millions more women than the Little Sisters’ exemption,” Becket said.
“We never wanted this fight, and we regret that after a long legal battle it is still not over,” said Mother Loraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters of the Poor. “We pray that we can once again devote our lives to our ministry of serving the elderly poor as we have for over 175 years without being forced to violate our faith.”
They plan to appeal.
The new lawsuits have created some confusion in the public because of the previous victories that the Little Sisters and Hobby Lobby won at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Breitbart reports the lawsuits result from a very narrow ruling by the high court on the Little Sisters’ initial case:
In 2016, the Supreme Court issued a very narrow decision involving the Little Sisters of the Poor in Zubik v. Burwell, regarding whether the 2013 faith-based “accommodation” likewise violates RFRA [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act]. The Court largely punted the issue, tasking HHS with determining if there was a way to provide the birth control and abortion services to female employees without the organization self-certifying. (The Little Sisters had argued that doing the certification still made them complicit in sin, because they knew that executing those forms would impose on their insurance company a legal obligation to pay for contraceptives.)
The narrowness of Zubik is likely due to the sudden passing of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, without whom the Court could not garner a majority of five justices for a broader decision like Hobby Lobby.
Trump issued an executive order in 2017 to defend the groups’ religious liberty, but abortion activists challenged it and Judge Gilliam ruled against Trump. Then, the Trump administration revised the regulations. These revisions are what the pro-abortion attorneys general are challenging now.
“Government bureaucrats should not be allowed to threaten the rights of the Little Sisters of the Poor to serve according to their Catholic beliefs. Now the nuns are forced to keep fighting this unnecessary lawsuit to protect their ability to focus on caring for the poor,” said Mark Rienzi, president of Becket and lead attorney for the Little Sisters of the Poor. “We are confident these decisions will be overturned.”
The cases are State of California v. HHS and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Trump.