The Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns who successfully battled the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, will return to court to defend against Democratic efforts to restore federally mandated birth control coverage.
The nuns, who operate dozens of homes for the elderly poor, have long held that providing contraceptive care violates their religious beliefs.
The Little Sisters’ first case against the Department of Health and Human Services ended in October when President Donald Trump’s administration expanded the scope of religious exemptions to the mandate, that required employers to provide contraception access to employees without a copay. The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016, though the justices remanded the issue to a lower court without ruling on the merits, in hopes former President Barack Obama’s administration would reach a settlement with the nuns.
After the exemption’s expansion, California and Pennsylvania sued the administration, arguing the amended version violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and several provisions of the Constitution. The APA establishes a process for the promulgation, amendment, or recension of federal regulations. The states claim the administration did not follow proper APA process when amending the mandate.
“What group of Americans will they target next?” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement in early October. “Will they allow businesses to deny you cancer treatment? Will they exclude you from insurance coverage because of a pre-existing health condition?”
Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public interest law group that litigates religious freedom controversies, said the lawsuits were a politically motivated effort to appease core Democratic constituencies.
“Sadly [Pennsylvania Attorney General] Josh Shapiro and Xavier Becerra think attacking nuns is a way to score political points,” he said. “ These men may think their campaign donors want them to sue nuns, but our guess is most taxpayers disagree. No one needs nuns in order to get contraceptives, and no one needs these guys reigniting the last administration’s divisive and unnecessary culture war.”
Rienzi also says neither state has standing to bring a case, since they have not identified a single person who lost coverage under the mandate’s broader exemptions.
“The states don’t have an interest in this case at all,” he said on a Tuesday call with reporters.
The states counter that they may be saddled with additional healthcare costs under the new rule, should affected employees seek contraceptive coverage through state-funded programs.
Becerra and Shapiro brought the case in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the federal trial court based in San Francisco.
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