There have been many challenges to the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), but most of them have been from right-wing politicians, and few have gotten anywhere. However, on Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear a case against Obamacare presented by a group of nuns called the Little Sisters of the Poor. They believe the healthcare law is forcing them to act against their religious beliefs.
According to the Atlantic, the Little Sisters of the Poor will argue that the contraceptives mandate within Obamacare conflicts with the teachings of the Catholic church, which forbids the use of any contraceptives. The law states that all insurance plans must fully cover 20 FDA-approved contraceptives. This affects both commercial employers and non-profit organizations, including the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Since the law passed in 2010, many religious organizations besides the Little Sisters of the Poor have tried to combat the mandate, including a group of priests called Priests for Life, religious universities, and even a Roman Catholic Archdiocese. Many of these challenges have made their way through circuit courts and failed to convince government officials that an exception should be made for religious employers.
An accommodation already exists for many religious employers, allowing both for-profit and non-profit organizations to fill out a form which permits a third party to provide the contraceptives in place of them. But groups like Little Sisters for the Poor are still uncomfortable with the whole process, believing that filling out a form to allow free contraceptives is hardly different than distributing birth control firsthand.
“The [Little Sisters of the Poor] spend their lives taking care of the elderly poor — that is work our government should applaud, not punish,” said Mark Rienzi from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “The Little Sisters should not have to fight their own government to get an exemption it has already given to thousands of other employers, including Exxon, Pepsi Cola Bottling Company, and Boeing. Nor should the government be allowed to say that the Sisters aren’t ‘religious enough’ to merit the exemption that churches and other religious ministries have received.”
Despite all the failures in the lower courts, the highest court in the United States has agreed to hear the Little Sisters of the Poor. The lawyers representing the nuns claim that Obamacare violates their First Amendment right to freely exercise religion, but the Supreme Court already rejected that argument. Instead, the justices will be determining if Obamacare violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law designed to protect religious groups from an undue burden enforced by the government. To successfully make their case, the Little Sisters of the Poor both have to prove that a burden has been placed on their free exercise of religion, and that the government has not utilized the “least-restrictive” method of executing Obamacare.
According to CNN, this will be the second time the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge against the Obamacare contraceptive mandate, having ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby in 2014. A decision will most likely be reached in June of next year.
Those who advocate for the Obamacare contraceptive mandate claim that it is important to maintain public health and protect the reproductive rights of women. Gretchen Borchelt, vice president for Health and Reproductive Rights at the National, responded to the challenges brought against Obamacare by groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor.
“Women deserve insurance coverage of birth control no matter where they work or go to school. It’s unfair and harmful for some employers and schools to use their religious beliefs to deny women vital health care that also makes them more economically secure. The Supreme Court must stop these efforts to undermine women’s health and ensure that women continue to have the seamless access to birth control that they are entitled to under the law.”
Do you agree with the Little Sisters of the Poor?
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