In this 2016 file photo, Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, mother provincial of the Denver-based Little Sisters of the Poor, speaks to the media outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Several organizations praised the U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld Trump administration regulations giving employers more ability to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage in their health plans.
Groups as diverse as Students for Life of America and the Heritage Foundation hailed the July 8 decision as a victory for the free exercise of religion and the protection of conscience rights in regard to moral decision-making. Religious organizations said the ruling will allow them to better focus on carrying out their mission.
The case examined if the expansion of the conscience exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate violated the health care law and laws governing federal administrative agencies. It combined two cases — Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania.
At National Right to Life, president Carol Tobias praised the court for upholding the “right to the free exercise of our beliefs.”
“One of our most fundamental rights is … that these beliefs are not trampled by government overreach,” she said. “We are please that the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the importance of protecting conscience rights.”
She also charged that organizations supporting abortion were handed a defeat by the court.
“Pro-abortion groups have proven time and time again that their goal is abortion on demand at anytime, anywhere, and nothing should stand in the way, including the conscience rights of Americans,” Tobias said.
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, echoed Tobias, saying the decision reflects “the commonsense understanding that the nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor should not be forced to act against their deeply held beliefs.”
“Birth control,” she added, “is widely available for purchase in the United States, but forcing people of faith to pay for it has always been a misuse of government power.”
Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee for Religious Liberty, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, issued a statement addressing the case saying, “This is a saga that did not need to occur. Contraception is not health care, and the government should never have mandated that employers provide it in the first place.”
“The Little Sisters of the Poor is an international congregation that is committed to building a culture of life. They care for the elderly poor. They uphold human dignity. They follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Church. The government has no right to force a religious order to cooperate with evil. We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision. We hope it brings a close to this episode of government discrimination against people of faith. Yet, considering the efforts we have seen to force compliance with this mandate, we must continue to be vigilant for religious freedom,” they wrote.
The president of the Franciscan University of Steubenville said religious institutions must be free to focus on their mission and charism based on the intentions of their founder.
This Supreme Court decision will allow Franciscan University to continue doing our specific work of educating students without being forced to violate our religious beliefs in the process,” said Franciscan Father Dave Pivonka, who heads the school located in eastern Ohio.
John Bursch, vice president of appellate advocacy at Alliance Defending Freedom, said the Supreme Court upheld the First Amendment rights of organizations to “pursue their missions consistent with their beliefs.”
“The high court was right to reject each and every one of the grounds that the court of appeals used to strike down those protections,” he said in an emailed statement.
Bursch explained the states that challenged the mandate as established in the Department of Health and Human Services rules did not find “a single individual plaintiff who was allegedly harmed by the religious and moral exemptions.
“That shows that contraceptives are widely available, and that no compelling reason exists for the government to violate the religious and moral convictions of organizations who don’t wish to provide abortifacients and artificial contraception,” he added.
An official at the Heritage Foundation backed the decision as well. President Kay C. James said the ruling “preserves fundamental religious liberties and is good news for all Americans, regardless of faith.”
James called it “heartbreaking” that federal officials would force the Little Sisters of the Poor or any other religious organization to act against deeply held religious beliefs. “Shame on those who created these mandates and thanks to those who fought so valiantly for so long to end them,” she said.