- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic charity run by nuns, said this week they are moving ahead with their lawsuit challenging Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate, rejecting the administration’s latest effort to provide free contraceptive care to women without forcing religious employers to pay for it.

In court papers filed late Monday the Little Sisters said the latest administration policy changes “nothing of substance” in the nuns’ lawsuit.

“Offering the Little Sisters another way to violate their undisputed religious beliefs changes nothing,” attorneys for the Little Sisters wrote in a brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

Federal courts have asked both administration lawyers and the nonprofits that object to the contraceptive mandate to update their arguments after a series of Supreme Court actions this summer that advanced the debate — chiefly the ruling in the Hobby Lobby case. It said closely held corporations can’t be forced to pay for contraceptive care if the owners have a legitimately held religious objection.

Shortly after that, the court issued an order that said Wheaton College, a Christian institution, did not have to comply with the mandate for the time being, as challenges from nonprofits work their way through the appellate courts.

The administration had hoped to head off those cases with a new proposal last month that lets religiously affiliated universities, hospitals and charities duck the mandate by filing an official objection with the Health and Human Services Department.

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The previous rules required the nonprofits to submit a form to insurance companies asserting their religious objections, and the insurers would then provide the coverage without charging the nonprofits. Under the new rules, the form would be submitted to the government and HHS and the Labor Department would act as the permission-granters.

Nonprofits said signing the form still makes them complicit in providing services they object to on moral grounds, including morning-after pills that they deem to be abortifacients.

“Merely offering the Little Sisters a different way to violate their religion does not ease their conscience,” said Adele Keim, counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the Little Sisters. “Adding another layer of paperwork is a solution that only a bureaucrat could love.”

The government, though, said under the new rules the nonprofit “merely informs” the government of its objection, and it’s the government that orders the insurer or third party administrator to provide contraceptive coverage.

Attorneys for the Little Sisters said the government could instead have given religious nonprofits the same carve-out that actual churches, synagogues and mosques have, or the administration could have allowed affected employees to buy coverage on Obamacare’s health exchanges.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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