Supremes let employers opt out of birth-control coverage

In a 7-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday gave yet another victory to the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns who have been fighting the Obamacare demand that they pay for abortions for employees.

The court previously ruled in their favor twice. This time the ruling was against the states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, which were trying to impose the mandate.

The court noted the Obamacare law, which is under challenge in its entirety in the courts, “requires covered employers to provide women with ‘preventive care and screenings’ without ‘any cost sharing requirements.'”

It relies on “Preventive Care Guidelines” from the Health Resources and Services Administration to define the requirements. They include paying for Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs.

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Churches, and that was expanded to allow “qualifying religious organizations” to opt out.

In the Hobby Lobby decision in 2014, the court ruled the mandate “substantially burdened the free exercise of closely held corporations with sincerely held religious objections” to abortion.

In a second decision, the Supreme Court returned to the lower courts a case to “develop an approach that would accommodate employers’ concerns.”

The federal government then implemented rules that significantly expanded the church exemption to include an employer who “objects … based on its sincerely held religious beliefs” to even “arranging” for abortion coverage.

Pennsylvania sued, and New Jersey joined the case.

But the court ruled against them, finding the federal government “had the authority under the ACA to promulgate the religious and moral exemptions.”

Further, there could be a conflict in the ACA with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the ruling said.

“It is clear from the face of the statute that the contraceptive mandate is capable of violating RFRA. The ACA does not explicitly exempt RFRA, and the regulations implementing the contraceptive mandate qualify as ‘federal law’ or ‘the implementation of [federal] law’ under RFRA,” the court said.

The two states has claimed the exemptions were adopted through procedures that were defective, but the justices disagreed.

Associate Justices Ruth Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor were in the minority in the 7-2 ruling.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, noted the many lawsuits triggered by the abortion mandate.

He argued the text of the ACA itself grants “virtually unbridled discretion” to the federal agency to decide what counts as “preventive care and screenings.”

“But the same capacious grant of authority that empowers HRSA to make these determinations leaves its discretion equally unchecked in other areas, including the ability to identity and create exemptions from its own guidelines,” he wrote.

“Under a plain reading of the statute, then, we conclude that the ACA gives HRSA broad discretion to define preventive care and screenings and to create the religious and moral exemptions,” he said.

“For over 150 years, the Little Sisters have engaged in faithful service and sacrifice, motivated by a religious calling to surrender all for the sake of their brother. … But for the past seven years, they – like many other religious objectors who have participated in the litigation and rulemakings leading up to today’s decision – have had to fight for the ability to continue int heir noble work without violating their sincerely held religious beliefs. After two decisions from his court and multiple failed regulatory attempts, the federal government has arrived at a solution that exempts the Little Sisters from the source of their complicity-based concerns – the administratively imposed contraceptive mandate,” the majority said.

Thomas said the government “had the statutory authority” to create the exemption.

Ginsburg and Sotomayor said they would hold “the religious exemption [is] neither required nor permitted.” Their dissent said it is no burden for religious organizations to pay for, or facilitate, abortion.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins pointed out Obama’s plan had threatened fines of up to tens of millions of dollars unless the sisters violated their religious convictions by covering abortion-causing drugs and services in their health insurance plan.

“Although they won after a 5-year battle, the Little Sisters were dragged back before the highest court in the land after multiple states tried again to force them to violate their religious convictions,” Perkins said.

“The Little Sisters’ long struggle for survival is one evidence of the growing hostility to religion in America. It should be common sense to allow a religious group to conduct themselves according to their religious convictions, and yet government agents have tried to punish them with obtuse fines for doing just that. We are pleased to see the Supreme Court still recognizes religious freedom,” he said.

“There is no more fundamental freedom than to obey the dictates of one’s own conscience, and no freedom should be held more sacred from government interference,” he said.

“We are glad that the Constitution protects the Little Sisters and others willing to stand up for their beliefs in the face of intense, longstanding opposition. These brave women have endured nine years of legal persecution for their religious beliefs, and we sincerely hope the Supreme Court’s decision today is the end of this unjust saga. Enough is enough,” concluded Perkins.

During the oral arguments, Ginsburg lobbied for “seamless, no-cost contraception coverage” and suggested employers were imposing their religious beliefs on employees, even though the issue is what the employers will be required to subsidize.

Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, said: “One of our most fundamental rights is the right to the free exercise of our beliefs and that these beliefs are not trampled by government overreach. We are pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the importance of protecting conscience rights.”

SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said: “Today is a major victory for President Trump, who has courageously fought to protect the Little Sisters of the Poor from the Obama-Biden HHS abortifacient mandate. We hope today’s victory at the Supreme Court will finally allow the Little Sisters to carry out their mission to love and serve the elderly poor without having to violate their conscience. The Sisters, along with other religious and moral objectors who conscientiously object to abortion, should never be forced to go against their consciences to provide abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans. We commend President Trump for standing strong for the Little Sisters of the Poor – his record stands in stark contrast to that of Joe Biden, who helped launch this assault as Obama’s Vice President nearly a decade ago.”

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