- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2020

The Supreme Court announced Friday it will hear challenges to the Trump administration’s exemption for religious organizations, which excludes them from providing contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act.

Under the previous administration, churches were exempt from providing healthcare coverage that runs contrary to their teaching. But in October 2017, the Trump administration further expanded exemptions from the contraceptive mandate to include a broad range of entities with sincerely held religious or moral objections to contraceptives.

The Little Sisters of the Poor and the Trump administration sought the high court’s review after a lower court sided with states challenging the expansion and issued a nationwide injunction.

Little Sisters’ Mother Provincial expressed hope for an end to what they call a “long legal journey.”

“It is disappointing to think that as we enter a new decade we must still defend our ministry in court,” said Mother Loraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters of the Poor. “We are grateful the Supreme Court has decided to weigh in, and hopeful that the Justices will reinforce their previous decision and allow us to focus on our lifelong work of serving the elderly poor once and for all.”

The Little Sisters is a Roman Catholic religious order for women founded in the 19th century in France. The institute runs nearly 30 homes for needy, elderly persons in the U.S., according to its website.

In its cert petition, attorneys representing the Little Sisters of the Poor in Pittsburgh noted the appeals court had failed to identify any employee who would be harmed by the Little Sisters’ not carrying birth control on their health plans.

A date for the oral argument has not yet been set, but the American Civil Liberties Union said it’s discriminatory to allow universities and employers to refuse to provide employees and students with birth control coverage.

“The Trump administration’s attempt to take away people’s insurance coverage for contraception is one of the administration’s many attacks on access to abortion and contraception, and we hope the Supreme Court will uphold the lower court’s ruling blocking this awful law,” said Brigitte Amiri, deputy director at the American Civil Liberty Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project.

Faith-based groups, though, celebrated the justices’ review, calling the lower court’s ruling “dangerous.”

“The Supreme Court of the United States needs to protect once and for all the Little Sisters of the Poor and people of all faiths from government-forced violations of their religious beliefs,” said Stephanie Taub, senior counsel to First Liberty Institute.

The high court has ruled for the Little Sisters of the Poor in the past when it first challenged the contraceptive mandate, but the most recent challenge has been brought by states against the Trump administration’s most recent expanded religious exemption policy.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

• Christopher Vondracek can be reached at cvondracek@washingtontimes.com.

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