A traditionally liberal federal appeals court has ruled once again that the Little Sisters of the Poor have to pay for abortions under their health insurance plan under the Obamacare mandate.
Over the past three years the Supreme Court has twice protected the Catholic nuns, but pro-abortion state officials have filed new lawsuits trying to force the Catholic order to pay for abortions in their health care plan. Today, a 3-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit issued a decision.
The panel’s ruling invalidated the new pro-life rules the Trump administration put in place to protect the Catholic nuns and others from being forced to fund abortions.
In May 2016, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned lower court rulings against the Little Sisters and granted them an exemption from the Obama HHS mandate, which required the nuns to fund abortion pills in their health care plans or pay millions of dollars in fines. In 2018, the Trump administration announced a new rule protecting religious non-profits, including the Little Sisters, but several states, including Pennsylvania and California, immediately sued the federal government to take that protection away, forcing the Little Sisters back to court.
The 9th Circuit panel ruled on the California case today:
“The panel held that the religious exemption contradicts congressional intent that all women have access to appropriate preventative care and the exemption operates in a manner fully at odds with the careful, individualized, and searching review mandated by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” Judge J. Clifford Wallace wrote for the majority.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra led 13 other state attorneys general in a lawsuit against the administration challenging the exemptions.
“Today will serve as a reminder to the Trump Administration that politicians and employers certainly have no business interfering with women’s reproductive healthcare,” Becerra said in a statement.
Senior Circuit Judge Andrew Kleinfeld, a George H.W. Bush appointee who leans conservative, penned a dissent, arguing that the case has more to do with states looking to save money than it has to do with women’s health care. He added that the decision is redundant because a judge in Pennsylvania has already halted the administration’s birth control exceptions.
In 2016, the government admitted, before the Supreme Court, that it has ways to get abortion-causing drugs to women without forcing the Little Sisters of the Poor to participate. In fact, California and Pennsylvania each have programs for providing tax-funded abortions to women who want them. Yet these States sued to enforce the federal mandate on religious non-profits like the Little Sisters.
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“This is a nonsensical political battle that has dragged on six years too long. These states have not been able to identify a single person who would lose contraceptive coverage under the new HHS rule, but they won’t rest until Catholic nuns are forced to pay for contraceptives,” said Mark Rienzi, president of Becket. “It is time for the Supreme Court to finally put this issue to rest.”
During the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in Washington this year, President Donald Trump defended the conscience rights of pro-life doctors and nurses. He also stood up for the Little Sisters of the Poor, the group of Catholic nuns that is still fighting in court against being forced to pay for abortion-causing drugs.
“When I asked for your support in 2016, Americans of faith were under assault. But the shameful attempt to suppress religious believers ended the day I took the oath of office,” the president said.
“My administration has taken historic action to protect religious liberty. We’re protecting the conscience rights of doctors and nurses and teachers and groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor. We’re with them,” Trump told the audience of hundreds of Christian voters.
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 that may cause abortions in their employee health care plans.
The Little Sisters won a victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016, but the new lawsuits pushed them back into court.
The Obamacare mandate forces employers to provide every form of birth control, including types that may cause abortions, in their employee health plans. Many religious employers, like the Hobby Lobby craft store chain, do not oppose providing most forms of birth control, but they do oppose the types that may end an unborn baby’s life.
Whats more, the Obama administration carved out exemptions for huge corporations like ExxonMobil and PepsiCo but not for religious individuals. Lawyers with the Becket Foundation, which represent the Little Sisters, pointed out that Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro did not challenge the exemptions for those big businesses.
Shapiro and other pro-abortion attorneys general have claimed that the Trump administration rules violate the First and Fifth Amendments because they put employers’ religious rights over women’s and deny women equal protection under the law, Patch reports.
But even Shapiro admitted that the HHS mandate under Obama was “extremely narrow,” leaving little room for religious exemptions.
Trump’s order limits a rule created under the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act that required employers, including non-church religious organizations, to cover all forms of contraception at no cost to the employees, including birth control drugs and devices that can cause abortions.
Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at Becket and lead attorney for the Little Sisters, previously told LifeNews: “Sadly Josh Shapiro and [California Attorney General] Xavier Becerra think attacking nuns is a way to score political points. These men may think their campaign donors want them to sue nuns, but our guess is most taxpayers disagree. No one needs nuns in order to get contraceptives, and no one needs these guys reigniting the last administration’s divisive and unnecessary culture war.”
The controversial birth control mandate has twice made it to the Supreme Court where it sided with both Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters.
The court ruled that Hobby Lobby and other similar businesses were protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which states that an individual’s religious expression shouldn’t be “substantially burdened” by a law unless there is a “compelling government interest.”
In the Hobby Lobby ruling, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the ACA birth control rule “would put these merchants to a difficult choice: either give up the right to seek judicial protection of their religious liberty or forgo the benefits, available to their competitors, of operating as corporations.”