Obama's War on the Little Sisters of the Poor

Obama's War on the Little Sisters of the Poor
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They’re back.

Actually they never went away. But until last Friday, people had more or less forgotten about the Little Sisters of the Poor’s lawsuit against the Obama administration. That was until the Supreme Court announced that it will hear their case, alongside six other charitable groups that are suing the administration over its so-called “contraception mandate.” Buckle in.

Let’s do a little recap. In August 2011, not long after the president had repeatedly vowed not to use his health care law to violate religious liberty, his administration announced that it would require all employers to pay for and provide insurance coverage for everything from sterilization to Plan B, a drug whose own FDA label warns can destroy life. After much shock and outcry, the administration doubled down, and the Department of Health and Human Services issued the mandate. The biggest religious liberty lawsuit in American history ensued.

Things started to get really confusing in 2012, when the administration issued multiple tries at an “accommodation.” The “accommodation” was widely rejected by all parties, who rightly argued that conscience is not something that can be compromised. You either violate it, or you don’t. The lawsuits broke off onto two tracks, the for-profit and the non-profit. The for-profit cases hit the Supreme Court first, with the owners of Hobby Lobby as the face of those suits. Their lawyers at the Becket Fund argued that an employer cannot be forced to choose between their faith or a fine solely because they entered the marketplace. They won.

The status of the non-profit cases was in legal limbo until last Friday, when the Supreme Court accepted the case of the Little Sisters et al. But between Hobby Lobby and today, we had an election. In the 2014 midterms, every senator in a tight race who had opposed the Little Sisters was tossed. Some of those senators, such as Mark Udall of Colorado and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, had actually leaned harder to the left than the president himself and tried to jam a bill through Congress that would skirt the Supreme Court’s ruling and the Obama administration’s so-called compromise and make everyone, no matter what their religious beliefs, pay for things like abortion drugs.

Americans instead elected senators who had very vocally supported religious liberty. At the same time, polling found that a majority of Americans oppose the mandate by a 10-point spread. All the “war on women” rhetoric that got thrown around in that election cycle was quietly packed up and shelved away.

And yet, despite the fact that nothing says “ideological extremism” more than forcing nuns to entangle with abortion and nothing says “blind to the political environment” like refusing to back off, the Obama administration is refusing to back off. No doubt there are some Democrats shifting very uncomfortably in their seats -- as they are headed right into an election cycle where they will have to explain to their constituents why they oppose the Little Sisters of the Poor in a religious liberty lawsuit. That’s because the mandate is still very much alive and well, and the Little Sisters of the Poor are having to spend time away from the impoverished and dying elderly people they serve to fight off bureaucratic bullies who refuse to take these nuns at their word that something violates their faith; instead, these bullies would rather drag in a judge and engage in a full-court press.

You may not be sure what you think of this case. You may not understand all the technicalities -- who has to sign what paper, who is paying vs. who is subsidizing, and so on. But let me tell you one thing that you can be sure of. Some of us wake up ready for a fight. Some of us enjoy a good political slugfest. We read blogs, and editorial pages, and watch debates. We do some blogging, and editorial writing, and debating ourselves. Not the Little Sisters of the Poor. Their only fight is with Mister Death, with poverty, with loneliness. The only fight they go looking for is to make the last days of some very downtrodden people brighter and happier, to send as many people into the next life surrounded by love, not garbage. You can be 100 percent assured that the Little Sisters of the Poor are not relishing a legal battle that has taken them all the way to the highest court in America on the heels of the vitriol that surrounded Hobby Lobby.

So I am going to do something naughty and pull out that war-on-women phrase just one more time, dust it off, and say there is actually one war on women going on in America. The battle lines of this fight are clear as day: It is the president and his administration vs. the Little Sisters of the Poor. And it’s a real disgrace.

Ashley McGuire is a senior fellow with the Catholic Association, an advocacy group that urges the Catholic laity to apply church teaching, wisdom, and principles to the issues of the day.

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