Little Sisters of the Poor can join Trump in birth control fight, court rules

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A Little Sister of the Poor speaks with a resident in her care. (Photo: The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty)
A Little Sister of the Poor speaks with a resident in her care. (Photo: The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty)

Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Roman Catholic nuns that operates about 30 affordable senior housing, senior living and long-term care homes in approximately 20 states, can join the Trump administration in fighting the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

As McKnight's previously reported, the nuns originally were part of a large lawsuit filed by multiple organizations claiming religious or moral objections to the ACA provision that required employers' health plans to cover contraception. The mandate permitted certain groups, such as the Little Sisters, to request waivers so they could be exempted from the policy. The nuns, however, argued that signing the waiver violated their religious freedom. The Supreme Court eventually heard the case and sent it back to lower courts to reach a new settlement.

In October, the president's administration announced plans to roll back the contraception mandate and allow employers to opt out. Multiple legal actions from states and other groups followed in an attempt to preserve the requirement; they said that women's health and healthcare costs could be negatively affected by the change.

In November, the Little Sisters filed motions to join two of those lawsuits, brought by California and Pennsylvania, on the side of the federal government, to call for the rollback to continue. Tuesday's ruling in the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals overrules a December decision in the Keystone State case that kept the nuns out of the case after Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro objected to their inclusion.

“We conclude that the Little Sisters' interests may not be adequately represented by the federal government,” the three-judge panel wrote in the new decision.

“The appeals court got it right — the Little Sisters should be allowed their day in court to argue for their rights,” Lori Windham, senior counsel at nonprofit law firm Becket, which represents the Little Sisters of the Poor, said in a statement.

“We pray that soon this trying time will be over, that the court will rule as the Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that the government doesn't need us to provide these services to women,” Mother Loraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters of the Poor said in a statement. “As Little Sisters of the Poor, all we want is to follow our calling of serving the elderly poor.”

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