Allow me to introduce you to the Little Sisters of the Poor. They are a congregation of Catholic religious sisters dedicated to caring for the elderly poor.
The Little Sisters of the Poor serve more than 13,000 people in 31 countries around the world, and they have nearly 30 homes in the United States where they lovingly attend to the elderly and dying.
Mother Loraine Maguire explained the sisters’ mission this way:
“Most of the people who live in my residence have nowhere else to go. The 13,000 elderly we take care of around the world come to us in search of a home and of good medical care. They seek solace and companionship when they have none. And we gladly commit to live with them until they complete their earthly journey. We tell them that once they come to our home, we belong to them and they belong to us because we are family.”
The Little Sisters have operated in the U.S. since 1868—over 150 years. But for the past nine years, they have been involved in a legal battle that has taken them before the U.S. Supreme Court four separate times. This spring, the Supreme Court will consider one of those cases when it hears arguments in two consolidated matters, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania. Today, Alliance Defending Freedom filed an amicus brief in support of the Little Sisters and the federal government. So what brought about such a lengthy legal battle?
A Government Mandate
After Congress enacted the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued what has become known as “the contraceptive mandate.” This mandate required most employers to provide contraceptives—including emergency contraception and abortifacients—in their health plans. The only religious or moral exemption was for churches.
But churches are not the only organizations that believe human life begins at conception and should be protected.
Being forced to pay for or approve the delivery of life-ending drugs and devices through their health plans also violated the beliefs of many other religious and pro-life organizations, including the Little Sisters and ADF client March for Life. Yet they faced crippling fines if they refused. So the Little Sisters of the Poor and ADF clients like Geneva College and Southern Nazarene University filed lawsuits.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court sent the government back to the drawing board to better accommodate their religious objections. And in 2017, the Trump Administration issued new HHS rules exempting religious or pro-life nonprofits like the Little Sisters and March for Life from complying with the abortion pill mandate. Unfortunately, it didn’t end there.
Forced to Carry out the Government’s Agenda
As soon as the Trump Administration issued the new rules, pro-abortion bureaucrats in Pennsylvania, California, and other states filed lawsuits to block the rules and prevent religious and pro-life nonprofits from receiving relief. Shockingly, courts in Pennsylvania and California ruled in the states’ favor.
The Little Sisters of the Poor and March for Life intervened to protect their right not to be forced to pay for or approve the delivery of life-ending drugs and devices to their employees. Now, they find themselves before the U.S. Supreme Court once again.
In their haste to push a political agenda, these pro-abortion states are trampling on religious liberty. Even after the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in Roe v. Wade, our country has respected those with moral and religious objections to abortion, offering conscience protections for both organizations and individuals.
But many bureaucrats who favor abortion and disfavor freedom of conscience are threatening to shatter that status quo. And if the court allows these bureaucrats to force religious sisters to violate their pro-life beliefs, who would be safe from government attacks on people of faith?
What’s particularly heinous about this attack on freedom is no one is harmed by letting nonprofit organizations such as the Little Sisters of the Poor and March for Life continue to serve in a way that is consistent with their beliefs and mission.
Employees of pro-life groups share the mission of their employers, after all. They don’t want abortifacients. And that’s why the states that filed this lawsuit have failed to identify a single woman who will be unable to obtain abortifacients or contraception if the Supreme Court protects religious liberty.
The Supreme Court needs to make clear, once and for all, that the Constitution protects the right to live your faith in the public square. When freedom prevails, everyone wins.