The Little Sisters of the Poor will head back to the U.S. Supreme Court as the justices review a federal appellate court decision striking down a Trump administration rule giving religious organizations the ability to opt-out of an Affordable Care Act mandate that requires employers to cover birth control and abortifacients.
The Supreme Court announced Friday that it will hear two challenges dealing with the Trump administration’s measures that make it easier for employers with moral objections to obtain exemptions in health care plans.
The court will deal with Trump v. Pennsylvania and Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania. The Little Sisters of the Poor is an order of Catholic nuns who care for the elderly.
The organization had previously gone before the Supreme Court in its effort to win an exemption from the Department of Health and Human Services mandate, which the nuns said forced them to violate Catholic teachings against abortion.
In 2016, the Supreme Court vacated two lower court rulings against the organization.
Under the Trump administration, the federal government stopped fighting the legal battle and the HSS enacted rules, making it easier for nonprofit and for-profit companies (except publicly traded companies) to request an exemption from the mandate.
The Little Sisters of the Poor and its attorneys with the legal nonprofit Becket will have to argue again that such a requirement violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
A lawsuit was filed by the Commonwealth in 2017 against the mandate. Last July, the Third Circuit ruled in favor of Pennsylvania.
“It is disappointing to think that as we enter a new decade we must still defend our ministry in court,” Mother Loraine Marie Maguire said in a statement. “We are grateful the Supreme Court has decided to weigh in, and hopeful that the Justices will reinforce their previous decision and allow us to focus on our lifelong work of serving the elderly poor once and for all.”
Becket President Mark Rienzi said in a statement that Pennsylvania “needs to give it a rest.”
“Why is Pennsylvania still trying to fight tired and unnecessary culture wars that were settled years ago?” Rienzi asked. “There are plenty of ways to provide people with contraceptives without forcing Catholic nuns to participate. It's too bad that the Supreme Court is being forced by Pennsylvania to deal with this issue again, but at least the court can now bring this litigation to a permanent end.”
Other states have also sued to stop the HHS rules making it easier to gain exemptions to the contraception mandate. Other courts, such as the Ninth Circuit, have also ruled against the Trump administration’s exemption rule.
Religious freedom groups and legal experts are hoping that the Supreme Court will provide a clear answer on the issue.
“The Supreme Court of the United States needs to protect once and for all the Little Sisters of the Poor and people of all faiths from government-forced violations of their religious beliefs,” Stephanie Taub, a senior counsel with the religious freedom law nonprofit First Liberty Institute, said in a statement. “We are confident the Justices will again respect the religious liberty of all religious nonprofits and reverse the Third Circuit’s dangerous decision.”
The Supreme Court also ruled in favor of the Christian-owned craft store chain Hobby Lobby in 2014 when it challenged the Obamacare contraception mandate. The court ruled 5-4 that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods Specialties could refuse to provide coverage of certain abortifacients basis of a religious objection.