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Little Sisters of the Poor Back in Court

A nun speaks at a rally.
A nun speaks at a rally. (Becket Fund for Religious Liberty)

The Little Sisters of the Poor will go to court Tuesday, Dec. 12, to defend themselves against a lawsuit by Attorney General of California Xavier Becerra, who is suing to take away the Sisters' religious exemption from a Health and Human Services rule.

In early October, HHS issued a new rule that protects religious non-profits like the Little Sisters of the Poor from providing services like the week-after pill in their health care plans in violation of their faith. The Little Sisters' four-year legal ordeal was close to an end. Now the state of California is suing HHS to take away the Little Sisters' religious exemption.

Represented by Becket, the Little Sisters will be back in court to ensure that they can continue their vital ministry of caring for the elderly poor without violating their faith.


This case isn't about ensuring all Americans can access contraception. The administration has already exempted many secular corporations like Exxon and Pepsi, cities like New York and the military family plan from including free contraception and non-surgical abortion in their health care plans. One in three Americans is not even covered by the mandate HHS is fighting so hard to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to follow. HHS could much better meet its goal of providing access to contraception if it provided it as an add-on in the health care exchange for all women instead of fighting so hard to force the Little Sisters to offer it through their religiously-protected health plan.

The Little Sisters Trusted President Obama

The Little Sisters of the Poor could have gone the route of many big corporations by grandfathering their plan to avoid the new requirements, but they trusted the president's promise to protect their religious beliefs. Now, HHS is telling the Little Sisters they will be fined $70 million/year unless they change their health care plan to start offering the ella pill, which ends a pregnancy one week after sex.

Reasonable Religious Concern

Regardless of one's position on abortion, we can all understand why Catholic nuns would object to including free access to a pill that terminates a pregnancy in their health care plan. The Little Sisters' religious calling is to care for the elderly poor, and that is where they want to spend their time. They do not agree with abortion and hold to Catholic teaching on contraception, but they are not trying to prevent the government from offering these services to women who want them.

Common-Sense Solution

There is a simple solution that addresses the Little Sisters' moral concern and the government's stated goal: Offer these services as an add-on through ACA's healthcare exchange like dental insurance and other add-ons. That is what the exchanges were created to do, and this would provide access to all women in America (i.e., those in religious plans and secular ones HHS has already exempted). This is a much better solution than continuing to try to force only religious groups with an objection to these services to offer them.

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