Nuns Want to Fight as Contraceptive-Mandate Battle Wages On

Little Sisters of the Poor outside the U.S. Supreme Court after oral arguments for their case against the contraception mandate in the federal health care law. (Photo courtesy of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty)

PHILADELPHIA (CN) – After prevailing at the Supreme Court against the federal health care law’s contraception mandate, the Little Sisters of the Poor launched themselves Tuesday into a new leg of the battle.

Bringing the nuns back to court are new filings on opposite sides of the country in the last month by the attorney generals of Pennsylvania and California.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro brought his suit on Oct. 11, about a week after federal regulators issued new rules that would expand the religious exemption to the contraceptive mandate and create a brand-new moral exemption by which employers could base their refusal to cover contraceptive care for workers based on loosely defined moral convictions.

Delaware, Maryland, New York and Virginia joined California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in a separate challenge that was amended on Nov. 1.

A Christian legal nonprofit called the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty said Tuesday that the cases should not go forward without input from the Little Sisters.

In separate briefs supporting two motions to intervene, Becket attorneys insist that the Little Sisters have a duty to protect their hard-fought injunctions.

The briefs are largely identical, accusing the states of leaving out the Little Sisters from their filings in show of “blatant forum shopping.”

“This is irresponsible political grandstanding of the first order, but comes at the expense of real people — the Little Sisters and the people they serve — who need a real religious exemption,” both briefs state.

Becket notes that seven other lawsuits have been filed across the country over the expansion of the religious objection but that the Little Sisters want to intervene only in California and Pennsylvania’s.

“Plaintiffs appear to believe that there is a political aspect to this litigation, as they have not sought interim injunctive relief in any cases assigned to Republican-appointed judges,” the briefs state.

The Little Sisters claim that the suits force them to choose between violating their sincerely held religious beliefs or paying over $3 million in annual fines.

“Women have many ways to access contraceptives,” Becket senior counsel Lori Windham said in an email. “This lawsuit won’t change that. The Little Sisters simply want to be left out of it. The grandstanding state AGs are trying to drag them back in, and threaten their ministry to the poor.”

Becket senior counsel Mark Rienzi also portrayed the nuns as parties to the suits.

“Sadly Josh Shapiro and Xavier Becerra think attacking nuns is a way to score political points,” Rienzi said in a statement. “These men may think their campaign donors want them to sue nuns, but our guess is most taxpayers disagree. 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.”

The states’ lawsuits have support meanwhile from groups like the Women’s Law Project of Pennsylvania.

“Access to contraception reduces maternal and infant mortality, and reducing that access will increase it,” Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project, said in a statement. “Claiming to be ‘pro-life’ and supporting this is beyond hypocritical. It’s outrageous.”

The Little Sisters of the Poor say their involvement in the case is part of their ministry. “What we just want to do is continue our religious mission of caring for the elderly poor as we have for over 175 years,” Mother Loraine Marie Maguire said in a statement. “We pray that these state governments will leave us alone and let us do our work in peace.”

Pennsylvania AG Shapiro argued on his website meanwhile that federal law requires insurance companies to cover preventive health care services, including contraception, with no co-pay.

“The administration’s illegal action and new rules mean that 2.5 million Pennsylvania women and their families could have to pay more for basic health care,” Shapiro said.

Joe Grace, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, declined to address the nuns’ specific claims.

“We’ll stand on the merits of our lawsuit, and do our arguing in court,” Grace said in an email.

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