A Central Deception in the Obama Administration’s Case Against the Little Sisters of the Poor


A key theme of the Obama administration’s 37-page response to the Little Sisters of the Poor’s request for an injunction against the HHS abortion-pill Mandate, boils down to this: It’s just a form. The case isn’t about liberty; it’s about paperwork.

Here’s their argument in a nutshell: The law merely requires the Little Sisters of the Poor to certify their religious objection to the third-party administrator of their self-insurance plan. Ordinarily, this certification would then require the third-party administrator to provide “free” abortifacients to the Little Sisters’ employees, but since the third-party administrator is exempt from this requirement (because they’re administering a “church plan”) and says it won’t provide the abortion pills, then this case is about nothing at all — nothing but a requirement that the Little Sisters fill out a piece of paper to get their government benefit.

Here’s the government’s brief:

Applicants cannot establish that it is indisputably clear that such a RFRA claim would succeed. Indeed, that reading of RFRA, if accepted, would seemingly invalidate any scheme in which an individual or entity with religious objections is required to complete a certification of entitlement to an opt-out in order to secure the opt-out. That cannot be correct.

But here’s the problem: The certification is not an “opt out,” it’s a document that actually empowers a third party to provide free abortion pills. In that way, it’s more like a voucher than an opt-out. Imagine if the government said to a religious employer, “We’re not going to require you to pay for abortions, but we will require you to provide employees with a document that entitles them to a free abortion at the Planned Parenthood clinic down the street.” Would anyone think for a moment that respected religious liberty? Yet that’s the essence of the government “accommodation” here.

The Little Sisters object to providing an abortion/contraception voucher — a voucher that could be redeemed for free abortifacients at the discretion of a third-party administrator.

So, no, this is not an argument about a form. After all, religious entities (including the Little Sisters of the Poor) fill out forms without objection all the time. It’s about power — whether the Obama administration can force a Catholic charity to empower a third-party to provide free medical services that indisputably and gravely violate the deeply-held religious principles of nuns who are doing good works for the “least of these.”

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  • ahermit

    Yes it’s about power. Religious organizations wanting the power to tell their employees how to live their lives.

    • David French

      So its’ oppressive to buy your own abortion pills?

      • ahermit

        It’s unfair to put up obstacles to make it more difficult for an employee to get the health care they require. If part of the compensation an employee receives is insurance it is not the employer’s place to dictate to the employee how to use their compensation.

        This is about religious institutions imposing their religious beliefs on employees who may not share those beliefs.

        Signing a waiver is no imposition on the employer. Forcing the employee to accept second rate insurance which doesn’t fulfill their medical needs is an imposition on the employee.

        • Steve V

          ahermit, the Sisters aren’t trying to tell anyone how to believe. Everyone in their organization already believes! If you had been paying attention to the facts of the case instead of your own emotions, you would know this is about the government trying to force it’s collective beliefs on the Sisters and them resisting that effort in court!

          The employees of that organization have no desire or need of those particular “medical needs” as you say. Even if it wasn’t a huge encroachment on liberty by a power hungry government, It makes no sense to require the Sisters (or the American people) pay for those unneeded and unwanted coverage’s. No sense whatsoever!

          • ahermit

            Nothing is being forced on the Sisters.

            They aren’t being required to pay for or provide anything, just to get out of the way so their employees can get the insurance they need if they want it.

            Don’t give me this hysterical nonsense about the Big Bad Guv-mint
            forcing itself on poor defenceless nuns and then accuse ME of being
            emotional…

          • David French

            I’m not sure you read the case. The sisters are being required to provide documentation that empowers the third-party administrator to provide abortion pills.

          • ahermit

            Exactly. All they have to do is fill out a form affirming their belief. How is that in any way a burden on their religious beliefs?

            The only reason for not doing so is to stand in the way of individual employees getting the insurance they require.

          • praxagora

            You keep saying that word, “abortion pill;” I do not think it means what you think it does

        • David French

          Abortion pills are “health care?” And freedom is slavery, right?

          • ahermit

            Contraceptives are not “abortion pills.” Stop being silly…

          • David French

            Plan B “morning-after” pills certainly are.

          • Sagrav

            No the Plan B “morning-after” pill is not an abortion pill. It prevents a woman from becoming pregnant, but it cannot end a pregnancy. If a pregnant woman takes the Plan B pill, it will fail to terminate her pregnancy.

            Here is information about what the Plan B medication actually does: http://ec.princeton.edu/questions/ecabt.html

          • David French

            Life begins when the egg is fertilized. Doctors define “pregnancy” as beginning with implantation. The Plan B “contraceptive” blocks implantation, thus ending the life.

          • Sagrav

            “Life begins when the egg is fertilized.” By “life”, I am assuming that you are referring to personhood. Otherwise, your statement is false as both the egg and the sperm cell that fertilized it are both alive and so life does not simply appear at the moment of fertilization.

            Of course, it is simply your opinion that personhood begins at the moment of fertilization. I would disagree as a fertilized egg is incapable of displaying any of the traits that make up a unique human being (personality, memory, ability to learn), even on a basic level. Still, there is little point to arguing with someone about something as subjective as the moment at which personhood begins.

            “Doctors define “pregnancy” as beginning with implantation. The Plan B “contraceptive” blocks implantation, thus ending the life.” Here is the problem with your definition. A contraceptive prevents pregnancy; an abortion ends a pregnancy. If the Plan B pill prevents the moment of impregnation (implantation) from occurring, then it is a contraceptive. It is not ending a pregnancy as something cannot be terminated before it has begun. If you stretch the definition of the abortion to include any willful act that prevents implantation from occurring, then condoms, birth control pills, the rhythm method, and even celibacy are abortive as they prevent a potentially limitless number of implantations from occurring.

            If you want to oppose the use of Plan B pills because you oppose all forms of contraception, then your position makes some sense (even if many people will oppose you anyway). However, torturing the definition of a word until it means whatever you wish it to mean is nonsensical. I also doubt that doing so has convinced a single human being to change their opinion and support your position.

          • Dorfl

            The Plan B “contraceptive” blocks implantation, thus ending the life.

            Well… We don’t know for certain that it doesn’t do that in some subset of cases. The main mechanism is still inhibiting ovulation. Quoting from the source you were directed to:

            The way emergency contraceptive pills work depends on where you are in your monthly cycle when you take them. EC works primarily, or perhaps exclusively, by delaying or inhibiting ovulation (release of your egg). It is possible that EC may affect the movement of egg or sperm (making them less likely to meet), interfere with the fertilization process, or prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.


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