WASHINGTON — A new injunction from the U.S. Supreme Court will protect the Little Sisters of the Poor from the demands of the contraception mandate while the group’s case works its way through the court system.
Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is helping represent the Little Sisters in court, said Jan. 24 that he was “delighted” by the order.
“The government has lots of ways to deliver contraceptives to people,” he said. “It doesn’t need to force nuns to participate.”
The Jan. 24 order was issued by the entire Supreme Court. It said that if the Little Sisters of the Poor tell Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in writing that they are among “nonprofit organizations that hold themselves out as religious and have religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services,” then the department is prohibited from enforcing the mandate while it is being challenged in court.
The Little Sisters of the Poor have provided physical and spiritual care for the poor elderly and dying in communities throughout the U.S. for 175 years.
They recently filed a lawsuit challenging the federal contraception mandate, which requires employers to offer health-insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and some drugs that may cause early abortions.
Amid religious-freedom concerns, the Obama administration revised the initial mandate, allowing religious employers such as the Little Sisters to sign a form that would trigger a separate health-benefit provider to offer the coverage.
The Little Sisters have objected that they cannot in good conscience sign the form because it authorizes an outside party to provide the very products and procedures they believe to be gravely immoral.
The Jan. 24 injunction will protect the Little Sisters from the mandate, or the fines they could incur from failing to comply with it, until a final judgment on the case is given by a court.
In addition, the injunction protects more than 400 other Catholic organizations working with the sisters' religious health-benefit provider, Christian Brothers Services, which is also a plaintiff in the case.
Injunctions have been awarded in 18 of 19 similar cases, the Becket Fund said.
“Virtually every other party who asked for protection from the mandate has been given it,” Rienzi said. “It made no sense for the Little Sisters to be singled out for fines and punishment before they could even finish their suit.”
The Supreme Court’s order said that the order should not be construed as “an expression of the court’s views on the merits.” The case will be heard and receive a final ruling in the federal court system.
The full court’s order follows Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s Dec. 31 action granting an emergency stay to temporarily block the enforcement of the mandate against the Little Sisters so that the Supreme Court could consider the group’s emergency injunction appeal.