Hard habit to break: Obama in siege on ‘Little Sisters’ nuns
Oct. 5, 2015: No one seems quite sure how the Little Sisters of the Poor became the punchline in so many football jokes.
Jokes that go something like:
“Ohio State is undefeated.” “Yeah, but they’ve been playing the Little Sisters of the Poor.”
So, this may have sounded like a joke in 2015, but it wasn’t: The Obama administration actually squared off against the Little Sisters of the Poor at the U.S. Supreme Court.
It was one of the most closely watched cases of the court’s 2015-2016 term.
The Sisters consider it a sin to provide their employees health coverage for contraceptives (including drugs classified by the FDA as abortion-inducing) as required under Obamacare, and they wanted the same kind of exemption given to churches.
The Supreme Court ruled earlier in the 2015 Hobby Lobby case that corporate employers can use religious objections to refuse to provide some contraceptives.
But the Sisters, as neither a corporation nor a church, were in the same legal limbo as thousands of religious schools and colleges, charities and hospitals. Those groups filed dozens of lawsuits.
The Obama administration offered a compromise: Those who object need not provide the contraceptive coverage, but they must notify the government or insurers, so separate coverage may be provided.
The Sisters said that wasn’t good enough.
Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards called a similar case won by the University of Notre Dame “a case about paperwork, not religious liberty.”
But the Sisters believed that misses the point: It isn’t about a piece of paper; it’s about conscience and complicity.
Most lower courts have argued there is very little complicity by the Sisters because the coverage goes through a third party.
Not so, said the attorney representing the Sisters, Paul Clement, who argued 75 cases before the Supreme Court, represented the Bush administration before the court as solicitor general from 2005-to-2008, and who clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia.
He argued, even though there is a third-party provider, and all the Sisters are doing is providing a form, “It is not for courts to decide the degree of complicity.”
In other words, either the Sisters are complicit or not, just as a woman is either pregnant or not: The question of degree is irrelevant.
Ultimately, the Little Sisters won big in 2016, when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously, wiping out all lower-court rulings against them.