Obamacare Forces Sisters Into a Terrible Choice

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The Little Sisters of the Poor have dedicated their lives to giving witness to their Catholic faith by providing nursing home care for elderly needy people. They do beautiful work, and are extraordinarily dedicated. You would think our society would cherish this mission and help it succeed.

Instead, the administration is forcing the Sisters into a terrible "Sophie's choice" – violate their faith or be forced out of business. The issue is the "HHS Mandate" – the requirement that all employer health insurance policies include contraceptives (including "emergency contraception," which can cause early abortions) and sterilization. Catholics, and many others, object to this because those services directly contradict our belief in the sanctity of human life and sexuality.

The administration has created a narrow exemption for churches, but not for religious non-profit organizations like the Sisters' nursing homes. The best the administration offers is an "accommodation". But to qualify, the Sisters have to file a "permission slip" directing their insurance company to provide the offensive coverage.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Catholic contraception controversy.]

This is what the Sisters, and other religious organizations, can't accept. Filing that "permission slip" means they would be directly cooperating in something forbidden by their faith. The government doesn't have the right to force anyone to do that.

Would anyone think it is acceptable for the government to force the Sisters to sign a form that gives explicit permission for someone to come into their nursing homes to euthanize their patients? Of course not – it would be an unthinkable violation of their religious freedom. And remember, the Sisters are not imposing their beliefs on anyone. Their employees, who freely chose to work for them, will still be free to obtain those services elsewhere. Only the Sisters are being forced to violate their beliefs.

This is not an abstract legal controversy – the real-world stakes are very high. For standing up for their faith, the Sisters are facing fines of $100 per day per employee as of January 1. They employ hundreds of people at their thirty nursing homes. So do the math – they are looking at fines of over $50 million per year, which would put them out of business.

[Check out 2013: The Year in Cartoons.]

The real victims of that would be the poor elderly people the Sisters serve, who would lose such wonderful care. That would defeat the good intentions of the Affordable Care Act – ensuring health care for all, especially the most vulnerable. That's surely not in the public interest.

Yet the Administration won't even agree to delay the fines so the Sisters can argue their case on appeal – even though they're now letting businesses drop health insurance for their employees completely, with no fine at all. This isn't public policy, it's a coercive ideology that considers contraception, sterilization and abortion to be “sacred ground,” and that will brook no dissent from people of faith.

All of society is enriched when religious groups serve needy people. Only ideology is served by the administration's intolerance against the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Edward Mechmann

About Edward Mechmann Director of Public Policy for the Archdiocese of New York

Affordable Care Act
Catholic Church
birth control

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