By Rich Lowry
It takes some doing to get embroiled in a court fight with nuns who provide hospice care for the indigent. Amazingly, the Obama administration has managed it.
Its legal battle with the Little Sisters of the Poor is the logical consequence of Obamacare's conscience-trampling contraception mandate. The requirement went into effect Jan. 1, but Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a New Year's Eve injunction against enforcing it on the Little Sisters.
They are Catholic nuns who follow the doctrinal teachings of the church and therefore oppose contraceptive and abortive drugs and sterilization, all of which Obamacare mandates that employers cover in their insurance plans. Given the ongoing delays, waivers and exemptions associated with the law, it would seem natural simply to let the Little Sisters go about their business of pouring out their hearts for the sick and dying.
But this is a fight the administration won't walk away from. For it, it is a matter of principle. And the principle is that the state trumps the convictions of people with deep-held religious beliefs.
When the contraception mandate first caused an uproar, the administration contrived a so-called accommodation for religiously oriented groups (actual churches have always been exempt). But whoever crafted it had a sick sense of humor. The very same document by which a group registers its moral objection to contraceptives and abortifacients also authorizes the insurer to cover them for the group's employees. What the accommodation gives with one hand, it takes away with the other.
The Little Sisters refuse to sign such a document. They happen to be in an unusual situation because they get their insurance from another religiously affiliated organization opposed to contraceptives and abortifacients, so it may be that these drugs don't get covered no matter what. But the Little Sisters can't be sure of this -- the regulations are complicated and subject to change.
Regardless, they don't want to sign. They want no part in authorizing coverage of contraceptive or abortive drugs. Enthusiasts for the mandate scoff. What the nuns are objecting to, they insist, is just a piece of paper.
Just a piece of paper? So is a mortgage. So is a wedding certificate. So is a will. How would the board of directors of NARAL react if the government forced them to sign a "piece of paper" tacitly condemning contraception or abortion? Would they shrug it off as a mere formality?
The Little Sisters deserve deference. Their religious sensibility is different than -- and, one hazards to say, more finely tuned than -- that of the mandarins of President Barack Obama's administrative state. In a dispute over what their conscience tells them to do or not to do, the Little Sisters are better positioned to know than anyone else.
Besides, who is harmed if the Little Sisters don't provide contraception coverage? They are a voluntary organization. They aren't imposing their views on anyone. Who, for that matter, is harmed if a secular organization run by people with moral objections to contraceptives and abortifacients refuses to cover them? Employees are still free to go out on their own and get contraceptives, which are widely available. If this sounds like an outlandish imposition, it is what people managed to do throughout American history all the way up to last week.
The contraception mandate has always had a strong ideological impetus. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius notoriously declared in 2011 that opponents of the mandate "want to roll back the last 50 years in progress women have made in comprehensive health care in America. We've come a long way in women's health over the last few decades, but we are in a war." By this bizarre way of thinking, a small congregation of nuns that cares for the most vulnerable is somehow complicit in a war on women's health.
Instead of respecting the moral views of the Little Sisters, the administration hopes to grind them under foot by force of law. For shame.