The Corner

Culture

Missing the Point on the Little Sisters Case

Nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor outside the Supreme Court in March. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

New York Times opinion columnist Gail Collins graced the paper’s opinion pages last week with this exercise in misdirection, insisting that the Little Sisters of the Poor case was an “anticontraception” effort thinly veiled (if you’ll pardon the pun) behind the pleasant faces of charitable nuns.

Collins expends little effort on getting her facts right — something that, if the Times staff is to be believed, no longer is permitted in the paper’s opinion pages. Nevertheless, she manages to make several errors in just one paragraph, asserting that, in its decision last week, the Supreme Court decided that the nuns “have the right to refuse to include birth control in their insurance policies.” In fact, the Court decided the case on procedural grounds, determining that the Trump administration may, if it wishes, offer religious exemptions to the mandate.

One sentence later, Collins avers that the nuns “always” had the right not to cover birth control, claiming that “under Obama-era regulations, the federal government took care of the issue when religious groups had ethical objections.” But in fact, “taking care of the issue” meant a so-called accommodation, a policy that still required employers to sign away birth-control coverage to their insurance provider. Given the degree of complicity still involved, this was insufficient — and not because, as Collins claims, it would require “let[ting] the government know what they weren’t doing.”

Our own Kathryn Lopez had an excellent response to this column on the homepage yesterday, pointing out that Collins had “presented a caricature of the Little Sisters of the Poor as easily used for ideological purposes” and “continued the party line used since the beginning of the Affordable Care Act — that there was nothing for all these silly Christians raising conscience objections to worry about.” Kathryn went on to enumerate the many ways in which the Little Sisters routinely serve the poor and needy, a mission that has been hampered by having spent years in court fighting for their religious-freedom rights.

But to Collins, what these nuns do outside the courtroom doesn’t even bear mentioning. Instead, she focuses her entire column on painting an entirely unsubstantiated picture of the Little Sisters as a mask for the real actor: Donald Trump and his hatred of female autonomy.

“You have to admit the anticontraception forces were brilliant to get the Little Sisters of the Poor as their star in court,” Collins writes, insinuating that the Trump administration, hiding behind the Little Sisters, is waging a war on birth control. But the fight at the heart of the Little Sisters case and the Trump exemptions isn’t a fight over contraception itself. (Though in my opinion it ought to be, as the fight over this mandate will never end until we address the Obama administration’s flawed presupposition that subsidized contraception is a necessary component of health care.)

This legal fight has been dragging on for nearly a decade now because the Obama administration and progressive state governments have refused to allow religious believers to operate businesses or their religious orders without underwriting birth control and abortion-inducing drugs, things that many faithful Americans find morally objectionable.

Instead of grappling with that reality, or even acknowledging it, Collins trains her rather unperceptive eye on the president, taking for granted that the moral qualms of the Little Sisters are nothing but cover for an administration hellbent on harming women. She spares no thought for the women of this order, who ask only to be left alone to care for the poor and dying without having to subsidize drugs that violate their fundamental beliefs.

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