Little Sisters of the Poor’s Interim Religious Exemption Finalized

By Nancy Flory Published on November 10, 2018

Late Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services finalized the interim exemption handed to the Little Sisters of the Poor on October 6, 2017. The ruling confirms the group’s freedom from Obamacare contraception insurance requirements. Attorney Mark Rienzi, president of Becket, spoke about the new rule Thursday. Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm focused on protecting religious freedoms. 

Culture War

“What happened yesterday should be the end of a long and unnecessary culture war fight,” said Rienzi in a press conference Thursday. “It was never the case that the United States government needed nuns to give people contraceptives.” The new rule should be “welcomed by people of good faith on all sides.” 

The federal contraception insurance mandate remains in place. Faith-based businesses now have an exemption, however, 

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“The new rules issued last night make clear that the federal government will not force religious or moral objectors to provide contraceptives that violate their deeply-held beliefs.” 

Obama administration officials handling the lawsuit had noted that people who want them have other options. “There are many, many, many ways for people to get contraceptives other than through a religious employer. … If somebody doesn’t get contraceptives or abortion-inducing drugs through their employers and really wants them, there are a lot of other ways they can get a plan that has those products on it.”

Related Cases

Two related cases remain ongoing. Two states — California and Pennsylvania — have sued the Little Sisters. Rienzi said the attorneys general for those states have been trying to prove the states “will actually be harmed somehow by the … religious exemption.” Neither state, however, has been able to find ” a single actual person who’s been deprived of contraception under these rules.”

Rienzi added that it’s likely their lack of success stems from two main reasons. First, most of the religious objectors had already objected and obtained protection by court order. Second, people who work for religious institutions also share their religious beliefs.

A Really Bad Argument

“The Little Sisters of the Poor should be not worried about court,” said Rienzi. They should be “taking care of the elderly poor in their homes.”

“I hope we get there soon,” he added. “I hope the courts and expect the courts will say the obvious thing.” That is, “the U.S. Constitution doesn’t require the government to make nuns give out contraception. That’s essentially the argument that’s continuing those cases. It’s a really, really bad argument. It’s not going to go very far.”

Rienzi pointed out that people had options long before there was a mandate. “Millions and millions, if not billions of people got contraceptives. None, or virtually none, of them ever got them from nuns, and that was okay.”

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