The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Monday on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor who've challenged the Department of Health and Human Services' mandate that they cover birth control and abortifacients for their employees.
After arguments were heard by the Denver, Colorado-based 10th Circuit on Monday, Sr. Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial of the Little Sisters of the Poor, said she and her order "are not seeking special privileges."
"The government exempts huge corporations, small businesses, and other religious ministries from what they are imposing on us — we are simply asking to carry on our mission to serve the elderly poor as we have always done for 175 years," Maguire said in a statement shared with The Christian Post.
"But the government forces us to either violate our conscience or take millions of dollars that we raise by begging for the care of the elderly poor and instead pay fines to the IRS," she added.
Daniel Blomberg, legal counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that's representing Little Sisters of the Poor, told CP on Monday that the judges on the 10th Circuit asked a lot of probing questions.
"They pushed the government to admit that a whole lot turned on the actions that the government was trying to force the Little Sisters to take," Blomberg said. "The court also asked several questions about why the government was willing to exempt Catholic Bishops but not willing to exempt Catholic nuns, like the Little Sisters of the Poor."
Blomberg also told CP that the Becket Fund expects a decision from the 10th Circuit "some months from now."
"Normally, it takes four months on average for the 10th Circuit to issue its written decision. In Hobby Lobby, it only took two months. In this case, it could take six months or longer," he said.
In September 2013, the Little Sisters of the Poor filed a lawsuit against the HHS over its controversial "preventive services" mandate.
Although the mandate exempts churches automatically under the "religious employers" category, the Little Sisters did not receive an automatic exemption.
In January, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted the Little Sisters a temporary injunction protecting them from the demands of the mandate as their case continued.
"… [R]espondents are temporarily enjoined from enforcing against applicants the contraceptive coverage requirements imposed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 42," ordered Sotomayor.
In September, the federal government filed a "supplemental brief for the government" to the 10th Circuit, deciding it will continue to defend the mandate against the lawsuit filed by the Little Sisters.
"This court should proceed with oral argument in these cases," reads the brief, in part, adding it is "crucial that these appeals be resolved now."
"Because of the injunctions issued in these cases, the women employed by plaintiffs have been and continue to be denied access to contraceptive coverage," the federal government claimed.