Nuns sued = War on Women

I thought we were done with this, but government officials want the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for other peoples’ birth control. In October, the feds bowed out of that asinine battle for the time being*, via a rule that is still open for public comment. Now, state-level harassment takes the stage as the Attorneys General of Pennsylvania and California – both men, as it happens – seek to force the Sisters to knuckle under.

The Sisters minister to elderly people living in poverty. Litigation is not their specialty. Fortunately, the Sisters have good legal representation. Too bad they need it.

See “For the love of God, why can’t Democrats leave the Little Sisters of the Poor alone?” by Nicole Russell in the November 26 Washington Examiner.

Challengers to conscience rights aren’t done, and those challenges are going to go beyond contraception. Anyone who wants to force you to pay for other peoples’ contraception will just as readily work to overturn or prevent abortion-funding restrictions.

Anyone who says “health care” and means “you pay for my contraception” is debasing the language.

Anyone who sues nuns to force them to pay for contraception is waging war on women.

Anyone who thinks contraception is “preventive health care” is asserting that women are broken and need to be fixed.

We’ll see how the two offending states fare in their effort.

 

* From the web site of the Becket Fund, a public-interest law firm defending the Little Sisters of the Poor: “On October 6, 2017, the government issued a new rule with a broader religious exemption. The rule may be changed after the government considers the comments it receives. Becket attorney Mark Rienzi stated, ‘It should be easy for the courts to finalize this issue now that the government admits it broke the law. For months, we have been waiting for Department of Justice lawyers to honestly admit that fact, like the President did in the Rose Garden five months ago. Now that the agencies admit the mandate was illegal, we expect the leadership of the Department of Justice will cooperate in getting a final court resolution.'”

“Considering” religious liberty

President Trump has issued an executive order on religious liberty, addressing in part the litigation between the government and the Little Sisters of the Poor over the government’s contraceptive mandate.  The Sisters are apparently off the hook, if I properly understood the remarks the President made before he signed the order.

(Some of my earlier posts about the mandate are collected here.)

Pope Francis visiting Little Sisters of the Poor. Photo from littlesistersofthepoor.org.

The Sisters are among the many plaintiffs who object to the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare on religious grounds. They don’t want to help procure contraception or abortion-inducing drugs and devices for their employees via employer-provided insurance. They have to go to court over this, lest they face fines that would destroy their ability to carry out their vocation to minister to impoverished elders.

The operative line in President Trump’s order is this: “The Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate…” (Recall that contraception was declared to be “preventive” care under Obamacare.)

Consider issuing amended regulations?

I’m happy for the Sisters. This is good news, as far as it goes. But there’s a long way to go before the mandate is history.


Weekend reading, 5/20/16: on Zika, tolerance, and a Canadian problem

Every Friday, I serve up three of my favorite posts from other blogs for you to read over the weekend, after you’ve caught up on Leaven for the Loaf. Have a good weekend!


Wall Street Journal: “Sisters Act Two: Back in the Habit” (wsj.com)

“As HHS works out the technical details of a new accommodation, its political instinct will be to enforce militant cultural liberalism….so why not crush the Little Sisters and their old-fashioned morals now?But better, not least for the temper of U.S. politics, to abide by America’s tradition of religious pluralism. HHS and the White House admit a more tolerant solution is possible.” Read the rest of the post.

Simcha Fisher: “That death may march in the shade” (aleteia.com)

(Editor’s note: I featured this earlier on Leaven’s Facebook page, but this post is worth sharing again.) 

“Sara Mujica of Danbury, CT is seventeen and pregnant. A pretty common story. What is unusual about her, at least in the U.S., is that she has Zika virus. She caught it in Honduras, where she travelled to visit her boyfriend. She started showing symptoms of the disease just after she found out she was pregnant….She says: ‘I have Decided to keep my Baby , Because it’s what God has given to me & I am taking Full Responsibility Of MY Actions &  I do NOT believe in Abortion so I would never do that.’

“The Giant Internet Hand of Spanking sprang into action and declared that Mujica is an opportunist, a liar, a cheat, a fraudster, a hypocrite, and of course a slut and a whore….Most of all, she should get an abortion. She must get an abortion. They could easily forgive her for all her missteps, as long as she makes the only responsible choice now.” Read the full post.

Margaret Dore: Canada has a problem as it tries to codify assisted suicide (alexschadenberg.blogspot.ca)

(Editor’s note: After a pro-assisted-suicide decision by Canada’s Supreme Court, the nation’s lawmakers are attempting to make laws to codify the decision. Dore,  an attorney and anti-euthanasia activist, warns that what’s under consideration violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.)

“People who sign up for assisted suicide or euthanasia do not necessarily intend to go through with it. Maybe it was somebody else’s idea, maybe they were ambivalent or maybe they signed up ‘just in case’ things get bad. A patient can also change his or her mind. There are many people, including heirs, who can benefit from a patient’s death. If the patient was tricked, objected or struggled, who would know? [This] bill is a response to the Canadian Supreme Court decision, Carter v. Canada, which envisioned a ‘carefully designed and monitored system of safeguards.’ The bill has no such system.” Read the rest of the post.


“Game-changer”: Supreme Court helps the Little Sisters, though mandate stands

For now, the Little Sisters of the Poor and the numerous other faith-based agencies fighting the HHS contraceptive mandate will NOT be subject to federal penalties for refusing to be a party (via employer-provided health insurance) to provision of goods and services that violate their faith. A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision today made that clear, while sending thirteen challenges to the mandate back to lower courts.


“This is a game-changer,” said Mark Rienzi of the Becket Fund, representing the Little Sisters. “The Court has accepted the government’s concession that it can get drugs to people without using the Little Sisters. The Court has eliminated all of the bad decisions from the lower courts. And the Court has forbidden the government from fining the Little Sisters even though they are refusing to bow to the government’s will. It is only a matter of time before the lower courts make this victory permanent.”

I admire Mr. Rienzi’s optimism. I hope he’s right.

The eight Justices declined to rule on the legality of the mandate, which is a regulation that followed the federal Obamacare fiat that contraception for women is a basic “preventive” health service. This federal policy that women are basically broken and in need of fixing is left untouched by today’s Court action.

The federal government can go ahead and provide the coverage for contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs and devices, under today’s Court action.

The bad news is that this means no majority could be mustered in the Court to reject the mandate altogether. That was the “decision” of the day: the mandate is still legal, despite numerous carve-outs and exemptions. From SCOTUSblog:

“The two issues that the Court had agreed to rule on, and then left hanging at least for now, were whether the [Affordable Care Act] mandate violates the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act by requiring religious non-profits that object to contraceptives to notify the government of that position, and whether the move by the government to go ahead and arrange access to those benefits for those non-profits’ employees and students was the ‘least restrictive means’ to carry out the mandate.”

“A decision not to make a decision is still a decision.” Those words were drummed into my head by my public-policy professor more than three decades ago as I studied landmark Supreme Court cases. An important non-decision was made today: the mandate stands. So do at least thirteen challenges to it, though, and that’s good news.

(See earlier Leaven coverage at “Religious Liberty and the HHS/Obamacare mandate.”)

Supreme Court, minus Scalia, takes on religious liberty

If I could see the Supreme Court Justices today for one minute, all I’d say to them is this: leave the nuns alone, already. The president’s not listening. Maybe the court will.

The fuss over Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate may have been off the front pages for awhile, but the Little Sisters of the Poor are raising the mandate’s visibility again. Good for them. They and several other petitioners are at the U.S. Supreme Court today, politely asking the Justices to prevent the federal government from forcing the petitioners to act in violation of their faith.

The contraceptive mandate (also known as the HHS mandate, in a backhanded tribute to the federal agency that promoted it) is based on Obamacare’s definition of contraception as a “preventive” service for women. (Not for men, mind you.) The idea was for insurance plans, including employer-provided plans, to cover contraception without a co-pay. Employers offering health insurance as a benefit would thus have to subsidize contraceptive use by employees.


The Little Sisters, women one and all, are having none of it. So far, litigation has spared them the punishment the government promises to mete out to balky employers. Today, the litigation begins its final stage.

Contraceptives include abortion-inducing drugs and devices. You’ll recall that the Hobby Lobby decision, decided on extremely narrow grounds, rested on the company’s willingness to pay for most kinds of contraception but not the ones that actually induce abortion.

Where does that leave Catholic entities like the Little Sisters, when providing contraception goes against their religious beliefs? Making contraception available under their health insurance for employees, even indirectly, makes the Sisters complicit in activities their religion sees as immoral. When the federal Obamacare exchanges exist, allowing people to buy insurance independent of their employers, why should employers be threatened with ruinous fines for not bowing to the mandate?

This isn’t solely a Catholic thing. Other petitioners today include Baptist and Nazarene institutions. What unites the petitioners is a firm belief that the government has no business telling them what their respective religions allow. Read more about the challenges to the mandate on the web site of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

The feds have come up with one supposed “accommodation” after another in an attempt to make religious objections to the mandate go away.  The feds have failed.

One fact is particularly damaging to the government’s dogged insistence that “free” contraceptives for women are a basic right: companies and agencies employing a total of one-third of Americans are already exempt from compliance with the mandate. The federal government has let the military, the city of New York, and Exxon off the hook, to name just a few. For some reason, though, the Little Sisters of the Poor have to go to court to vindicate their rights.

The Sisters’ ministry is to the elderly poor. Fines for noncompliance with Obamacare will harm not only the Sisters themselves but the people they serve. “So cover the contraceptives,” say mandate supporters, sounding a bit thuggish. Nice clients you have there. It’d be a shame if anything happened to them.

The Supreme Court split 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby, with an extraordinarily bitter dissent from Justice Ginsburg. One of the five in the majority, Antonin Scalia, has since died and has not been replaced. A 4-4 split would leave lower court decisions intact, which would be bad for today’s petitioners.

The lawyers for the petitioners can do math. They know the odds. They also know the First Amendment is alive and well, including protection for freedom of religion. As with the rest of the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment was not put in place to protect selected majorities but to protect all Americans.

You go, girls.