Colorado Nuns Fight Admin’s Birth Control Mandate In Hours-Long Hearing

Sarah Hurtubise | Reporter

The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Colorado-based convent, faced another federal court this week in its struggle against Obamacare’s mandate that employers — nuns or not — provide free contraception to workers.

Of the many cases filed against the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate, the Little Sisters of the Poor may lend the most sympathy to the opposition. The 175-year-old group is an international order of nuns whose mission is to serve the elderly who live in poverty. The Little Sisters and their legal counsel, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, faced the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver on Monday for oral arguments.

“We were in there for nearly three hours, and the judges asked good questions of both sides,” Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund, which represents The Little Sisters, told The Daily Caller. “Anytime that happens we feel positive.”

In Monday’s hearing, Rienzi said “the government didn’t have a really good answer for why they have to do it this way…The United States government can come up with a way to get contraceptives that doesn’t require the nuns” to help.

The contraceptive mandate included in the Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide all 20 types of Food and Drug Administration-approved contraception to employees at no cost. In response to outcry from many religious Americans, the Obama administration issued an exemption for religious employers, which includes the Little Sisters — and after a series of losses in the court system, amended the exemption time and time again.

The current formation requires The Little Sisters to notify the federal government that they have a religious objection to providing contraceptive coverage. The federal government itself will then contact a third-party administrator, who will then be the party forced to provide contraception for free.

The Little Sisters argue the federal government is still forcing them to participate in a process that violates their religious beliefs, or pay millions in fines. Thanks to a last-minute injunction from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in January, the Little Sisters won’t have to pay the Internal Revenue Service fines until the case is concluded.

“The government demands we choose between our care for the elderly poor and our faith. We cannot do that and we should not have to,” Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial of the Little Sisters of the Poor, said in a statement Monday. “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.”

Rienzi is bullish about the Little Sisters’ chances, even in light of a federal appeals court decision last month in favor of the administration’s exemption. The D.C. appeals court ruled against the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington, D.C. and several affiliates.

“It’s good that it’s out, because it’s easy to explain why it’s wrong,” Rienzi said. “The sisters and other religious nonprofits say … if they don’t fill out this form, the drugs don’t get handed out. The courts said, ‘Nah, it’s no big deal — it’s just a piece of paper.'”

The latest form of the religious exemption is yet another Obamacare case that may yet make it to the Supreme Court for a final answer. The court already struck down the mandate-at-large for “closely held” companies, including Hobby Lobby, in a landmark case this summer; the Court also issued injunctions earlier this year to the Little Sisters and Wheaton College while their lawsuits against the exemption play out. It’s possible the Court may decide to issue a final ruling on the religious exemption itself as well.

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