Little Sisters of the Poor Are Fighting on Two Fronts

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The Little Sisters of the Poor fight the good fight on two fronts. Their work caring for the dying and elderly poor puts them on the front lines of the Covid-19 crisis. And thanks to the unrelenting, bullying efforts of Attorneys General Xavier Becerra and Josh Shapiro and friends, the nuns are also still leading the religious liberty fight in America. Today, they experience Round 2 at the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that should be renamed Insatiable Ideologues v. Little Sisters of the Poor.

For eight years, the sisters have resisted a provision in the Affordable Care Act that forces employers to offer things like abortion pills in their healthcare plans, a provision which obviously violates church teaching and their consciences. They continue to resist it, even as their work has never been more urgently needed in this country.

The virus has unleashed a torrent of death and suffering upon our nation’s elderly. The most vulnerable elderly are those who are already sick and those who are poor and without access to good medical care. Those are the people the Little Sisters have committed their lives to serving. They accompany them in their final weeks, days, and hours, holding their hands, smiling, and singing at their bedsides as they pass from this life to the next. They don’t just bestow a clean bed and healthcare; they give their residents the ultimate gift -- a happy and dignified death. In that respect, their residents die richer than some of world’s richest. 

But for reasons that remain somewhat unclear, our aforementioned attorneys general, the would-be legal heroes of modern-day sexual ideology, can’t resist trying to make an example out them. Come hell or high water, they will rope the nuns into complicity with things like abortion drugs in their healthcare plans. Their future political campaigns depend on it, doggone it! Never mind that the Supreme Court already told the federal government it must settle with the Little Sisters in such a way that their conscience rights are not compromised -- and despite the fact that the president issued a subsequent executive order clarifying that under no circumstances can employers be forced to violate their religious or moral beliefs in their healthcare plans. 

Instead, Becerra and Shapiro claim the president doesn't have the right to make sure that the Supreme Court's ruling that employers’ First Amendment rights be respected and protected. Or something.

But using tricks of the legal trade, Becerra and Shapiro have found ways to drag the Little Sisters into courts all over the country, and today, back to the big one. One would be forgiven for thinking that a global pandemic that has strained America in unprecedented ways would make them relent. Because time spent fighting for the basic right to care for the dying and impoverished elderly according to the basic tenets of their faith is time taken from caring from the dying and impoverished elderly.

And dying they are. 

Like nursing and retirement homes all across America, the Little Sisters’ homes are especially hard hit. If anything, their homes are the most vulnerable of all homes for the elderly, given the profile of those they take in. In one of their homes in Delaware, for example, a full fifth of their residents have died. Each of them was already seriously ill, the kiss of death in Covid times. Their challenge is amplified as many of the nuns, like our brave healthcare workers and first responders, fall sick themselves caring for the Covid-positive.  

In that respect, the nuns model the Catholic contribution to healthcare in America. As detailed in our amicus brief in the nuns’ case, nuns founded our modern-day healthcare system, and many of the most famous hospitals in this country were founded by nuns going straight to, not away from, the sick during outbreaks and pandemics, be it the Franciscan sisters who started Mayo Clinic to treat lepers or the Sisters of Charity who founded St. Vincent’s hospital in the wake of a cholera epidemic. St. Vincent's went on to be at the epicenter of the AIDS outbreak and now, the Covid-19 pandemic.

The only difference is that those nuns weren’t simultaneously fending off bullies who were weirdly obsessed with entangling them with birth control pills. But nevertheless, the Little Sisters persist in bearing two crosses, courageously carrying out their mission of mercy during one of America’s darkest hours, while at the same battling for their religious liberty in court.

In the words of Mother Alfred Moes, O.S.F., the founder of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Rochester and the founder of what is today known as Mayo Clinic, “The cause of suffering humanity knows no religion or sex.” Like the nuns who have gone before them during health crises, the Little Sisters of the Poor know this all too well. The question is, will the boy bullies let them practice their religion and return to where they are needed: caring for suffering humans?

Ashley McGuire is a senior fellow with The Catholic Association and the author of “Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female.” Follow her on Twitter: @AshMcG

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