The Little Sisters of the Poor is an order of religious founded in 1839 by St. Jeanne Jugan. Their mission is to care for the poor and the elderly in more than 30 countries.
Their case, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, stems from a lawsuit by the State of Pennsylvania against the exemption granted to the Little Sisters of the Poor to the contraceptive mandate.
The sisters originally sued the federal government over the mandate that employers provide contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-causing drugs in health plans. The religious exemption that the Obama administration originally granted was so narrow that the sisters, and many other religious non-profits were not eligible.
When the administration issued an accommodation for the objecting non-profits, the sisters and other religious entities, including Catholic dioceses and charities, still challenged it in court.
Under the revised procedure, the objecting parties would report their objection to the government, which in turn would notify the insurer or third-party administrator to provide the contraceptive coverage anyway. The sisters said they would still be cooperating with the provision of morally objectionable drugs and procedures.
In 2016, the Supreme Court sent the case of the sisters and others back to the circuit courts, ordering the government and the objecting parties to come to an agreement respecting both the administration’s goal of contraceptive coverage and the sisters’ wishes to be exempt from participation in it.
Then in October of 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a new rule protecting religious entities that objected to the mandate.
However, attorneys general for Pennsylvania and California challenged the rule in court, saying that the sisters and other objecting religious non-profits should not be exempt.
The Supreme Court held oral arguments in March of 2018 to determine if the sisters could intervene in the states’ lawsuits, which in April the Court said they could.
At the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the sisters lost their case against Pennsylvania in July of 2019, and appealed to the Supreme Court in October. The Court on Friday agreed to hear their case.
The sisters also lost their case against California’s lawsuit in the Ninth Circuit Court in October.