The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday about whether religious charities like Little Sisters of the Poor should be forced to pay for contraception, including types that may cause abortions, in their employee health plans.
The nuns’ charity has been fighting in court for nearly eight years for relief from the Obamacare contraception mandate. After the Supreme Court gave them a temporary victory in 2016, Democrat leaders took the sisters back to court to challenge a new religious exemption from the Trump administration.
“We are hopeful that the court will protect us as it did in 2016 and eager to be rid of this legal trouble which has hung over our ministry like a storm cloud for nearly a decade,” said Mother Loraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters of the Poor. “In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the lives of our residents face a real and imminent threat, we are more eager than ever to be able to care for our residents without being harassed by governments.”
In court Wednesday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office argued that the religious exemption is overly broad and could be burdensome to thousands of women.
Meanwhile, attorneys for the Trump administration and the Little Sisters contended that the contraception mandate violates the nuns’ religious liberty and jeopardizes their charity work for the poor and elderly.
Breitbart reports the justices seemed to divide along their typical conservative-liberal lines. Currently, there is a 5-4 conservative majority; and this is the first case related to the contraception mandate that Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh have heard since joining the court.
When asked what the Little Sisters would do if required to follow the mandate, lawyer Paul Clement said they would have to reconfigure their entire charity. He said there is “nothing they can do to come into compliance with the mandate.”
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If the sisters refuse to comply, they could face crippling fines that could shut down their charity work.
However, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued against the exemption, claiming it would create an unfair burden on women who use contraception, according to Breitbart.
AFP News reports some politicians estimated about 70,000 women could lose contraception coverage if the exemption is upheld.
“You have just tossed entirely to the wind what Congress thought was essential, that women be provided these services with no hassle, no cost to them,” Ginsburg said.
However, Clement told the justices that lawyers challenging the religious exemption have not been able to identify a single woman who was ever denied contraception under the exemption.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined some of his liberal colleagues in questioning whether President Donald Trump’s rollback of the policy went too far. He and other justices still seemed baffled over how to resolve a fierce dispute over religious freedom and health care access that’s persisted for years.
… Roberts asked Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who defended Trump’s rollback, whether the administration was interpreting religious freedom laws “too broadly.” Roberts and other justices, meanwhile, expressed frustration that the fight over birth control coverage hasn’t been resolved after nearly a decade of legal battles.
“The problem is that neither side wants the accommodation to work,” said Roberts, referring to a current workaround for religious groups to avoid the coverage mandate.
At another point in the oral argument, Kavanaugh questioned the Democrat politicians challenging the exemption, “If we get to the bottom line of, ‘Is this reasonable,’ why isn’t this a reasonable way to balance it?”
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 an initial victory against the mandate in 2016 at the U.S. Supreme Court, but the new lawsuits pushed them back into court.
The Pennsylvania attorney general is challenging the nuns’ religious exemption granted by the Trump administration. After a loss in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the order of Catholic nuns is asking the Supreme Court to end their long legal battle and let them keep their focus on serving the elderly poor.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals placed a nationwide injunction on the Trump administration’s new conscience protection rule. On Oct. 22, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also placed an injunction on the new rule for the following states: California, Delaware, Virginia, Maryland, New York, Illinois, Washington, Minnesota, Connecticut, North Carolina, Vermont, Rhode Island, Hawaii and Washington, D.C. The case consolidates two challenges, Trump v. Pennsylvania and Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania.
Their case is different from the Supreme Court decision involving Hobby Lobby, the Christian-owned craft store chain. In that decision, the high court gave closely-held for-profit corporations “exemptions from the contraception mandate, in accordance with the companies’ owners’ ‘sincerely held’ beliefs,” the Washington Examiner reports. Also, Hobby Lobby did not object to providing all forms of contraception, only those that may cause abortions.
The case is Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. A ruling is expected sometime later this year.