May 17, 2016 Print

Photo credit: Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

In 2011, new Obamacare regulations mandated that insurance plans must cover birth control and morning-after medication, which is often used to terminate potential pregnancies within days of conception. Ever since then, religious groups that oppose abortion as a matter of conscience have struggled to maintain an exemption from providing this medication themselves without having to pay the government’s heavy punitive fines. Atlas Network partner the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has been defending one such group, the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns who care for the elderly poor. They had a victory at the U.S. Supreme Court on May 16, striking down the draconian government fines.

“We are very encouraged by the Court’s decision, which is an important win for the Little Sisters,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead Becket attorney for the Little Sisters of the Poor, in a press release. “The Court has recognized that the government changed its position. 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.”

The Little Sisters of the Poor have not sought to block access to contraception, and government-run health care exchanges are entirely capable of providing it themselves, the Becket Fund argues. They only want the personal religious conscience of the group to be respected. It is especially noteworthy that, according to the federal government’s own statistics, 100 million people — one third of Americans — are not covered by the birth control mandate because so many other insurance plans are exempt.

“In its arguments to the Supreme Court, the government admits that women who are not covered by the mandate can still access contraception through other means, such as on a family member’s plan or through the government’s own insurance exchanges,” the Becket Fund said in an earlier press release. “But it then bizarrely argues that exempting the Little Sisters and letting the nuns’ employees get contraceptives the same way would pose a serious threat to the government’s goal of providing universal free access to contraception and early-term pharmaceutical abortion, thus harming the ‘harmonious functioning of a society like ours.’ The Little Sisters of the Poor have simply asked to be exempt too, and have suggested the government could better meet its goals if it provided services through the healthcare exchanges for everyone instead of trying to force religious plans to offer these services that violate their beliefs.”

The Little Sisters of the Poor website posted a cartoon summing up the nonsensical government logic behind its case: