Re­lease form stokes uproar in nuns’ con­tra­cep­tion fight

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

The fight over a con­tra­cep­tion rule tied to Oba­macare has re­li­gious lib­erty ad­vo­cates and women’s health groups at log­ger­heads over a sim­ple act: What does it mean when a group of Colorado nuns signs a re­lease form?

A Den­ver chap­ter of the Lit­tle Sis­ters of the Poor says the doc­u­ment is an un­ac­cept­able out­come. It would au­tho­rize other peo­ple, over the nuns’ moral ob­jec­tions, to pro­vide birth con­trol ser­vices to em­ploy­ees of their nurs­ing fa­cil­ity for the aged.

“The sis­ters sim­ply can’t be part of it,” Mark Rienzi, se­nior coun­sel for the Becket Fund for Re­li­gious Lib­erty, said on Fox News Sun­day.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion says the form does just the op­po­site by al­low­ing re­li­gious groups to wash their hands of cov­er­age and as­sertively pro­claim ob­jec­tions to ar­ti­fi­cial birth con­trol, in­clud­ing the morn­ing-af­ter pills that some peo­ple equate to abor­tion.

Supreme Court Jus­tice So­nia So­tomayor agreed last week to tem­po­rar­ily block a pro­vi­sion un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act re­quir­ing the nuns to pro­vide insurance that cov­ers birth con­trol pro­ce­dures.

The case, the Lit­tle Sis­ters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Se­be­lius, is just the lat­est front in the years­long bat­tle over the con­tra­cep­tive rule that Pres­i­dent Obama is­sued in the wake of the 2010 law. Ac­cord­ing to the ad­min­is­tra­tion, the law re­quires large em­ploy­ers, as part of their group health care plans, to in­sure all con­tra­cep­tion drugs, de­vices and ser­vices ap­proved by the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The sis­ters’ plight is be­ing por­trayed as a David-ver­sus-Go­liath fight be­tween big gov­ern­ment and a group of nuns who aid the sick and dy­ing.

“In a sign that the White House will stop at noth­ing to save its un­pop­u­lar and un­work­able health care law, now they’re work­ing to si­lence a group of nuns in Colorado who ob­ject to the Oba­macare man­date re­quir­ing cov­er­age of con­tra­cep­tive ser­vices,” Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Repub­li­can, said over the weekend. “It’s an ab­surd new low for this man­date-happy ad­min­is­tra­tion and an un­ac­cept­able af­front to re­li­gious free­doms and fidelity.”

The na­tion’s high­est court is set to hear ar­gu­ments this term on a pair of chal­lenges to the ad­min­is­tra­tive rule from for-profit busi­nesses that say the rule vi­o­lates the re­li­gious be­liefs of the com­pany own­ers. The case will test the abil­ity of cor­po­rate en­ti­ties to cite re­li­gious pro­tec­tions in seek­ing carve-outs from gov­ern­ment man­dates.

Houses of wor­ship are ex­empt from the con­tra­cep­tion man­date, while faith-based non­prof­its such as hos­pi­tals and uni­ver­si­ties are el­i­gi­ble for an ac­com­mo­da­tion that lets them cite re­li­gious ob­jec­tions to the rule. From there, an in­surer or third-party ad­min­is­tra­tor would man­age and pay for the cov­er­age.

Many re­li­gious groups have said the com­pro­mise still would make em­ploy­ers com­plicit in di­rect­ing some­one else to in­sure and pro­vide birth con­trol for their em­ploy­ees. That’s where the nuns come in. Ad­vo­cates for the Lit­tle Sis­ters ap­plauded Jus­tice So­tomayor’s eleventh-hour or­der Tues­day to tem­po­rar­ily block the con­tra­cep­tion man­date, grant­ing an in­junc­tion that pro­tects the nuns from the rule while the case un­folds in the fed­eral ap­peals courts.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment fought back Fri­day morn­ing, fil­ing pa­pers that say no em­ploy­ees at the sis­ters’ nurs­ing home are about to ob­tain con­tra­cep­tives with­out pay­ing for it on their own.

The sis­ters’ char­ity gets insurance ser­vices from the Chris­tian Brothers Em­ployee Ben­e­fit Trust, a re­li­giously af­fil­i­ated ad­min­is­tra­tor that is not re­quired to pro­vide con­tra­cep­tive cov­er­age, ac­cord­ing to pa­pers So­lic­i­tor Gen­eral Don­ald Ver­rilli Jr. filed with the high court.

“With the stroke of their own pen, ap­pli­cants can se­cure for them­selves the relief they seek from this court — an ex­emp­tion from the re­quire­ments of the con­tra­cep­tive­cov­er­age pro­vi­sion — and the em­ploy­er­ap­pli­cants’ em­ploy­ees (and their fam­ily mem­bers) will not re­ceive con­tra­cep­tive cov­er­age through the plan’s third-party ad­min­is­tra­tor ei­ther,” Mr. Ver­rilli said. “The ap­pli­ca­tion should be de­nied.”

But the sis­ters say that even sign­ing a waiver will vi­o­late their be­liefs.

“The fight right now is over this form,” said Eric Rass­bach, deputy gen­eral coun­sel for the Becket Fund, which is rep­re­sent­ing the sis­ters.

Mr. Rass­bach said Ex­press Scripts, a third-party ad­min­is­tra­tor that works with Chris­tian Brothers, does not hold a re­li­gious ob­jec­tion to con­tra­cep­tives and could open the door to con­tra­cep­tive cov­er­age among the Lit­tle Sis­ters’ or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Now Jus­tice. So­tomayor must de­cide whether to take away the in­junc­tion, keep it in place or bring the is­sue to her fel­low jus­tices.

With bat­tle lines drawn, pro-life and women’s health groups are lin­ing up be­hind their re­spec­tive par­ties.

Mar­jorie Dan­nen­felser, pres­i­dent of the Su­san B. An­thony List, a pro-life group, said the ad­min­is­tra­tion “once again makes clear its in­ten­tion to steam­roll re­li­gious lib­erty and free­dom of con­science, even for an or­der of nuns sin­gu­larly ded­i­cated to pro­vid­ing char­i­ta­ble care for the aged and in­firm.”

Il­yse Hogue, pres­i­dent of NARAL Pro­Choice Amer­ica, told Fox on Sun­day that the nuns should sign the form and get back to the “great work that they do.”

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