Little Sisters of the Poor to defend contraception exception against lawsuits

Little Sisters of the Poor after oral arguments in a lawsuit over the contraception mandate Credit Becket Little Sisters of the Poor after oral arguments in a lawsuit over the contraception mandate. | Becket.

The Little Sisters of the Poor are expected back in court Thursday to ask for protection against a lawsuit seeking to end the religious order's exemption from the HHS contraception mandate.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra have each filed lawsuits saying that the sisters should not receive a religious exemption from the 2011 mandate. Twelve other states have also joined the lawsuit, reports the legal nonprofit Becket, which is representing the sisters.

"The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will hear arguments in California v. Little Sisters of the Poor and decide if California and 13 other states can force Catholic nuns to provide services such as the week-after pill in their health care plan in violation of their faith," Becket said in June 4.

The sisters have been embroiled in a lawsuit since 2011 challenging the federal contraception mandate, issued under the Affordable Care Act, which required that cost-free coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and some drugs that can cause abortions be included in employer health plans. The Little Sisters were one of several hundred plaintiffs to file suit against the mandate.

Catholic teaching holds contraception and abortion to be gravely immoral.

"California admits that it has many of its own programs to provide contraceptives to women who want them...And California has not identified a single actual person who had contraceptive coverage but will lose it because of this new rule," Becket reported.

"Despite all this, California asked a judge to find that the Little Sisters should be forced to comply with the federal mandate (not a state mandate) or pay tens of millions of dollars of government fines."

The Little Sisters of the Poor are a religious order founded in France in 1852 that reached the United States in 1868, dedicated to living with and caring for the elderly poor.

In October 2017, the Trump administration announced a new rule that would allow the Little Sisters of the Poor and similar groups to claim a religious exemption against the mandate. While the original mandate remained in place, a much broader exemption would be granted to non-profits and some for-profit companies if they can demonstrate a religiously-based objection to the mandate's demands.

This January, judges in California and Pennsylvania issued injunctions against the new rule, blocking its implementation and allowing California's lawsuit against the sisters to go forward.

"In 2017, following an Executive Order, a five-year legal battle resulting in a Supreme Court victory, and a new HHS rule protecting religious non-profits, the Little Sisters finally received a religious exemption that applies to non-profits nationwide," Becket said.

"Yet California immediately sued the federal government to take that exemption away. Joined now by 13 other states, Attorney General Becerra is forcing the Little Sisters back to court to defend their hard-earned religious protection."

The Ninth Circuit it set to begin hearing oral arguments in the case June 6.

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