However, their legal fight continues. Rienzi said the Little Sisters will still seek a court order to bar the government from imposing similar requirements in the future.
While a new federal rule protecting religious liberty would be "a very good thing," he said, the Little Sisters have always wanted a court to definitively say that "the government cannot force them to provide abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception."
"The alternative would be a world where the Little Sisters of the Poor and other groups, every four to eight years, have to be staring at the Federal Register, waiting and worrying to see whether the government is going to try to re-impose this."
The Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision of 2014 ruled that the mandate violated the religious freedom of closely-held private companies, but this did not apply to the Little Sisters' case, as their organization is a non-profit. In May 2016, the Supreme Court ordered a lower court to re-hear the nuns' case, a decision considered a technical win for the Little Sisters.
One backer of the Obama-era rule, National Women's Law Center vice president Gretchen Borchelt, told the New York Times she did not know the details of the new rule. Nonetheless, she charged that whatever the rule is, her group thinks it will "allow an employer's religious beliefs to keep birth control away from women."
She said her organization was preparing a lawsuit to challenge the proposed rule. Possible grounds for the lawsuit could be inadequate explanation or justification for the rule, which makes it "arbitrary and capricious." She thought the lawsuit could argue that the 2010 Affordable Health Care Act bars discrimination in health programs that receive federal funds. The act also bars the health secretary from issuing any rule that "impedes timely access to health care services" or creates "unreasonable barriers" for individuals seeking "appropriate medical care."
Rienzi said such lawsuits would not succeed, given that these groups did not challenge the Obama administration's other non-religious exemptions from mandatory contraception in health plans.
"There's nothing at all unreasonable about the federal government respecting religious liberty. Congress didn't impose this requirement in the first place, the agency did," he said.
The Kaiser Family Foundation said that before the mandate, more than 20 percent of U.S. women of childbearing age paid out-of-pocket for oral contraceptives. After the mandate, that number is now 4 percent.
According to Rienzi, figures on contraception coverage and contraceptive use ignore that the Obama administration had already exempted about one in three Americans, either on grandfathered plans or other government plans like military families. Big companies like Chevron and Pepsi were exempted by Congress for reasons of finance and convenience.
"About 100 million Americans did not have plans subject to this mandate," he said.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
"Some of the criticisms of the rule, at least that we're seeing so far, suggest that it will take contraceptives away from many people," he added. "That is quite inaccurate."
Rienzi estimated only 120,000 to 130,000 people were employed by religious employers that would qualify for exemptions.
"Obviously this country has a lot of ways to get contraception to people without forcing Catholic nuns to get involved. It's certainly a big enough country that we have room both for religious Catholic nuns and for people who want access to contraception," Rienzi said.
Other backers of the draft religious freedom rule included the Susan B. Anthony List.
"The taking of human life is the antithesis of health care," the group said. "No one, including religious orders like the Little Sisters of the Poor, or groups like Susan B. Anthony List should be forced to be complicit in the provision of abortion inducing drugs and devices."