The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic charity that cares for poor and elderly around the world, fought the Obama administration’s requirement that employers pay for abortion pills for employees.
But protection for their right not to compromise their faith for a political agenda was only five days old when Pennsylvania sued to overturn it.
Once again, the Little Sisters and other religious groups were faced with massive fines for standing by their biblical beliefs.
They jumped into action to defend themselves yet again but, stunningly, a lower court judge, Wendy Beetlestone, ruled they had no right to be heard.
The Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals now has put that judge in her place, reversing her order and requiring that the district court allow the Little Sisters to be heard.
Under President Obama, pro-abortion activists in government established a requirement that employers fund abortion and abortion pills for their employees.
The administration refused to provide any accommodation for those with faith objections to abortion, until the Little Sisters case reached the Supreme Court. The justices argued that if the government wanted to provide abortion pills to Americans, it didn’t need the nuns to do that.
Ultimately, two rules were enacted to provide opt-outs for employers with religious or moral objections to abortion.
So Pennsylvania sued on its own.
And even thought the nuns’ rights were directly threatened, Judge Beetlestone argued the state was suing the federal government over its rules, so the nuns wouldn’t be allowed to defend themselves.
“Women like the Little Sisters of the Poor do not need bureaucrats trying to push them around,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket, which has been defending the nuns.
“The appeals court got it right – the Little Sisters should be allowed their day in court to argue for their rights. It is shameful that [Pennsylvania attorney general] Josh Shapiro tried to deprive the sisters of their right to defend themselves.”
Shapiro’s claim against the federal government targeted the sisters’ rights, yet he argued against allowing them to speak in the case.
Becket explained that Shapiro’s lawsuit, “which would take away the nuns’ religious exemption from a Health and Human Services (HHS) rule, would mean they once again face the dilemma of providing services like the week-after pill in their health plan against their faith or pay millions in government fines.”
The nuns’ four-year battle with the federal government apparently ended last October when the Health and Human Services Department, now under President Trump, issued the rule recognizing their rights not to facilitate abortion.
Within five days, however, Pennsylvania sued.
“We pray that soon this trying time will be over; that the court will rule as the Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that the government doesn’t need us to provide these services to women. As Little Sisters of the Poor, all we want is to follow our calling of serving the elderly poor,” said Mother Loraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters of the Poor.
The authors of Obamacare and its regulations had no difficulty exempting big businesses – including Exxon, Chevron and Pepsi – and even government-run health care plans.
But they threatened the Little Sisters with millions of dollars in fines if they refused to facilitate abortion pills.
“Contrary to the district court’s decision, we agree with the Little Sisters that their interest in preserving the religious exemption is concrete and capable of definition,” the appeals ruling said.
The judges said a new fight raising the same arguments that were discussed earlier certainly implicates the nuns’ rights.
“If this court were to reach the [Religious Freedom and Restoration Act] issue, we would be answering the very question” before the Supreme Court, they found. “Answering that question in the negative surely would impair the protection” for the nuns.
WND reported in 2017 that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra asked a judge to find that the Little Sisters should be forced to comply with the federal mandate, not a state mandate, to provide contraception coverage or pay tens of millions of dollars in government fines.
In a hugely embarrassing ruling against Obama, the Supreme Court said otherwise.
“These men may think their campaign donors want them to sue nuns, but our guess is most taxpayers disagree,” said Mark Rienzi, Becket’s senior counsel. “No one needs nuns in order to get contraceptives, and no one needs these guys reigniting the last administration’s divisive and unnecessary culture war.”
Becket said California admits that many of its own programs provide contraceptives to women who want them.
“California never filed suit over the much larger secular exemptions created by the Obama administration for big corporations – exemptions that applied to tens of millions more people than the religious exemption,” Becket argued. “California’s own mandate does not even apply to the Little Sisters of the Poor. And California has not identified a single actual person who had contraceptive coverage but will lose it because of this new rule.”
Becket attorney Daniel Blomberg told WND and Radio America when the Supreme Court ruling was released that the Supreme Court doesn’t want groups such as the Little Sisters to be in the government’s cross-hairs, as they were under the Obama administration.
“Several lower court decisions had gone the wrong way, and they were forcing the Little Sisters to choose between their faith and fines, and they were massive, crushing fines,” he said at the time.
“The Supreme Court today said, ‘No, we’re not going to do that. We’re going to send this back down to get reconsidered because the government has admitted it has other ways of accomplishing its mission without forcing the sisters to violate their beliefs.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Daniel Blomberg: