Trump and Nuns to Clash With State in Contraception Fight

(CN) – A Roman Catholic order of nuns received the Third Circuit’s blessing on Tuesday to team up with the Trump administration’s attack on the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.

In October, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced exemptions allowing employers to opt-out of paying for contraception on religious or moral grounds. Several states from New York to California sued to prevent the rollback from forcing millions of women to pay more for reproductive care.

The Little Sisters of the Poor moved to intervene in a federal court in Pennsylvania, where 2.5 million women would be affected by the new policy.

After initially losing in district court, the nuns persuaded the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that they had the right to supplement the Trump administration’s arguments.

“Contrary to the district court’s decision, we agree with the Little Sisters that their interest in preserving the religious exemption is concrete and capable of definition,” U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas Hardiman wrote in a unanimous 20-page ruling.

All three judges behind Tuesday’s decision were appointed by Republicans:

Hardiman by George W. Bush; Judge Jane Richards Roth by the elder Bush; and Judge Stephanos Bibas by Trump late last year.

The nuns celebrated their courtroom victory through their attorneys from Becket, a nonprofit law firm specializing in religious issues.

“Women like the Little Sisters of the Poor do not need bureaucrats trying to push them around,” the group’s senior counsel Lori Windham said in a statement. “The appeals court got it right — the Little Sisters should be allowed their day in court to argue for their rights.”

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and his assistants have warned of the unintended consequences of the sisters’ effort.

In December, the state enlisted Penn State Professor Cynthia Chuang to warn presiding U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone that women in Pennsylvania could suffer “serious medical harm” including unintended pregnancies from the administration’s policies.

“If women forgo contraception because of cost, there will be more abortions,” Chuang said at the time.

While Attorney General Shapiro’s office declined comment on the ruling, his spokesman Joe Grace emphasized: “We’re staying focused on the case itself, and the nationwide injunction by Judge Beetlestone, which remains in effect.”

That injunction stated that the Trump administration’s rules could cause Pennsylvanian women “enormous and irreversible” harm.


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