Nuns Push Court for Moral Exclusion to Birth-Control Mandate

PHILADELPHIA (CN) — Representing a group of Catholic nuns opposed to the federal health care law’s contraceptive mandate, a lawyer argued Tuesday at the Third Circuit that the cost of providing birth control should fall to the state.

This still from video shows Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, mother provincial for the Little Sisters of the Poor, outside a courthouse in Philadelphia on Dec. 14, 2017. Pennsylvania is leading a challenge there against expanded exemptions to the contraception mandate, a provision of the federal health care law that requires employers to cover contraceptive care for workers.

“To say the nuns have to give it out is, and always has been, preposterous,” said Mark Rienzi, an attorney at Beckett for the Little Sisters of the Poor.

As a religious entity, the Little Sisters are already not subject to the mandate of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. They intervened in the case, however, to support the Trump administration for making it so employers with “sincerely held moral convictions” are also exempt.

On the other side of the case are the governments of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Earlier this year, the states secured an injunction from U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone based on their argument that taxpayers will ultimately bear the costs for 70,000 losing essential preventative health care.

“We have programs,” said Fisher. “They are not an adequate substitute for what ACA required.” 

U.S. Circuit Judge Patty Shwartz, an Obama appointee, pressed a lawyer for the Justice Department on Tuesday on its argument. 

“Your position is that women’s health care is on a different footing that religious freedom,” Shwartz asked. 

Department of Justice attorney Hashim Mooppan assured the panel that was not its position, but simply that the nationwide injunction was “grossly excessive.” 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2015 to 2017, 65 percent of women age 15-49 were currently using a contraceptive. 

U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr. in California ordered an injunction that blocked the rules in California, New York, Washington D.C. and 11 other states the night before Judge Beetlestone issued her order. 

U.S. Circuit Judge Theodore McKee and U.S. Circuit Judge Julio Fuentes rounded out Tuesday’s panel.

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