The Obama administration is supposed to respond this morning to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s temporary halt to the Department of Health and Human Services abortion-drug, contraception, female sterilization mandate. Apparently upon seeing the name of the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged on a court document involving a mandate that has supposedly been about women’s health and freedom, Sotomayor had the most reasonable reaction.
It seems a bit of a miracle that people are now paying some attention to an ecumenical problem that has at various times over the last two years been dismissed, ignored, and lied about. It involves some of our most fundamental liberties, but is bound up in the White House’s persistent stubborn insistence that it knows best, conscience be damned. Truth, too. (By which I mean most basic facts and more shattering ones about what it means when we declare ending a pregnancy “preventative care” and treat women’s fertility as a disease.)
Of course one of the most misleading lines about this regulation is that it is simply about women’s access to contraception. Bishops and university presidents and businessmen haven’t been talking about religious freedom as an academic exercise. The Obama administration’s narrowing of religious liberty here has implications for the lives of people in need. Inner-city school children, the poor, and the elderly.
In September, the Little Sisters of the Poor went to court over the mandate because, as they put it in a statement:
the federal government has passed a regulation, known as the HHS Contraceptive Mandate, that would force us to disobey Catholic teachings by arranging our health benefit plans to provide no-cost access to abortion-inducing drugs or devices, sterilization, and all FDA-approved contraceptives.
We believe the government’s attempt to coerce us in this manner is wrong, and that it violates our religious liberty. So, like many other Catholic and religious institutions around the country, we felt the need to seek legal recourse. On September 24, 2013 the Becket Fund filed a lawsuit on our behalf asking federal courts to protect us from being forced to violate our beliefs. By filing this case we are simply asking for the right to continue with our ministry as we’ve always conducted it: caring for the elderly poor, and providing health benefits to our employees, but without coverage for abortion, sterilization, and contraception.
With God’s help, we are praying for a positive outcome in this case.
A few days later, I interviewed Sister Constance Veit, one of the sisters, for National Review Online. “For us, this has nothing to do with politics,” she told me. “It is a question of respect for every human life created in God’s image, and of fidelity to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, and our religious vows.”
Our lives are usually quite hidden and we never seek to be in the public eye. In April we filed comments with the government explaining how the HHS mandate would require us to violate our religious beliefs, and we hoped that the issue would be resolved in the final rule that came out in June. Unfortunately, the government would not give us a religious exemption, leaving us with no choice but to ask the courts for help so we can avoid IRS fines. We just want to take care of the elderly poor without being forced to violate the faith that animates our work.
As Sr. Constance reminds us, it is not breaking news that the Obama administration has forced this conscience clash that violates the religious liberties of Americans who oppose abortion and believe the use of artificial contraception to be something they can’t be a part of, among other things. This policy has been in the works since abortion activists drafted it on an Institute of Medicine panel in 2011.
In our interview, Sr. Constance explained:
Non-compliance with the mandate would incur huge fines, constituting a severe financial burden for us and diverting much-needed funds away from the care of the poor. As it stands now, to offer our employees health insurance without free access to abortion-inducing drugs and devices, sterilization procedures, and contraceptives would risk fines of $100 per day per affected individual. For a home with 50 insured employees, this would mean fines of nearly $2 million per year. Similar fines could be imposed on each of our 30 U.S. homes! This is a tremendous price to pay for continuing our mission, since we already rely on donations for about half of our operating expenses in most of our homes.
Several people have asked how we can justify using our limited funds to pursue this lawsuit. I would like to make clear that the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is representing us pro bono, as they do all their clients, so thankfully we have not been forced to spend money that should be going to the poor on this case.
You might want to read the entire interview – Sr. Constance talks about Catholic health care and the daily lives of the sisters, among other things. She’s a face that Obamacare has unintentionally put in the spotlight! There are, of course, others.
The Becket Fund also provides a window into their lives on video here:
As Sarah Torre and Amy Payne from the Heritage Foundation put it:
The Obamacare mandate (also known as the HHS mandate, for Health and Human Services) punishes people like Little Sisters of the Poor for holding beliefs that spur them to compassionate service in the first place.
And they are far from alone. There are now more than 300 individuals, charities, schools, and family businesses suing over the coercive rule.
So far, things aren’t looking good in court for the Obama Administration. To date, federal judges have granted temporary stays against the mandate in nearly 90 percent of the cases they’ve considered, including a flurry of injunctions for non-profit charities and schools over the past week.
This is only one of the many reasons Americans need relief from Obamacare. We need health reform that respects people’s values and allows us the freedom to choose health care in line with our beliefs.
There is some additional good background on the case from Alliance Defending Freedom lawyer Matt Bowman here. Read the Sisters’ complaint here.
UPDATE: Breaking news on the case here and here. Yet more here.