This week – and for the first time in our nation’s history – Catholic nuns will bring a case to the Supreme Court. The hearing will decide if the government can force the Little Sisters of the Poor to comply with Obamacare requirements regarding abortion-inducing drugs and services.
There is “no good reason” to force those who embody public service to violate their beliefs,” argues House Speaker Paul Ryan. As it stands, the Chrisitan charity faces impossible decision: violate their faith by adding contraceptives and abortion services to their healthcare plans or pay a whopping $70 million fine.
Faith-based organizations like the Little Sisters have the option to submit a form to the government or their insurer which would make them exempt from the controversial coverage. That responsibility would fall to a third party. But the Sisters agree that signing such a form would be sinful.
“Catholic teaching is very clear on contraception, abortion,” says Sister Constance Veit. “So we’re being mandated to facilitate the provision of those services to our employees, and even though the government came up with what they call the accommodation, it’s not just – if we were to sign that, it’s not just a declaration that we won’t cooperate. It’s actually allowing them to take over our health plan and insert those services into it, so that’s just something that we can’t accept.”
She says they would consider paying the fine if it wasn’t so exorbitant. “If it was some small amount, maybe we would say okay, we’ll pay the fine and stick to our beliefs, but that kind of money is just impossible, so we really have no choice but to see it through to the end.”
The fight is completely unnecessary. In fact, the healthcare plans of 1-in-3 Americans are not required to provide the products and services that violate the values the Little Sisters of the Poor have dedicated their lives to promoting. Big corporations like Pepsi, Exxon Mobil, and Visa are also exempt from the requirement.
The Little Sisters of the Poor already have a tough job: caring for the elderly poor. “The last thing the federal government should do is make their jobs harder,” argues Ryan. “But that, unfortunately, is exactly what the administration is doing…Today, I stand in support of the Little Sisters.”
This week’s case – Zubik v. Burwell – will be the fourth time the Supreme Court has dealt with the Affordable Care Act and the second time it has referred an argument over its “contraception mandate.” There is concern that Justice Scalia’s untimely death will put the vote at 4-4. But that analysis is based on the Hobby Lobby case, which was far more complicated.
Paul Ryan is not alone in his support for the beleaguered group. This Tuesday, a group of congressmen gathered on Capitol Hill to speak out in support of the charity.
Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) acknowledges that the Sisters face an impossible choice: “Either they deny their deeply held beliefs and provide coverage for drugs that they deem to be morally objectionable to them or they face a $70 million fine in government penalties. Meanwhile, many of you don’t know this, but corporations such as Exxon and Pepsi are exempt from this mandate altogether. Only in Washington would anyone call this fair. If we won’t protect this fundamental right, then the Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom is no longer worth the paper that it’s written on.”
“This may be one of the most historic cases ever decided in America. The reason is it’s about a fundamental principle, these rights to conscience, the sacred space of humanity, from which flows religious liberty and all other liberties,” said Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NB). “It is not conferred by the government. It is a right consistent with the dignity of all persons.”
“This is not a partisan issue,” said Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL). “This cannot be a partisan issue. This is a fundamental right. If we deny the Little Sisters of the Poor – women who are giving their lives to helping others and doing so much to take care of the life and the health of others – if we deny them the rights to conscience, who in America is protected?”
“When in your life did you ever think we would have to be standing here in our nation’s capital protecting the Little Sisters of the Poor, protecting religious freedom, protecting religious conscience?” asks Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA). “This is not the America that we were raised in. This is not the America that has given 1.4 million lives to protect these rights, but we’re here today, and we’re asking every single American citizen to step forward and be heard.”