WASHINGTON—The U.S. Supreme Court this morning ruled in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor in a decision that protected the elderly nuns’ right of conscience. The vote was 7-2.
President Trump’s appointees Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Gorsuch along with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito joined in the majority opinion written by Justice Thomas. Justice Kagan wrote a concurring opinion joined by Justice Breyer.
“One of our most fundamental rights is the right to the free exercise of our beliefs and that these beliefs are not trampled by government overreach,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life. “We are pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the importance of protecting conscience rights.”
The case against the Little Sisters of the Poor is part of a long-standing attempt by pro-abortion groups and their allies, going back decades, to chip away at conscience rights protections. The Supreme Court heard a vigorous debate over whether these Catholic nuns, and others with religious and moral objections, are bound by a mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under a provision of ObamaCare. The mandate would force them to provide health insurance coverage for products and procedures they find “morally unacceptable.”
Following a favorable decision for conscience rights by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016, a new rule was issued in 2017by HHS to protect the religious and conscience rights of entities and organizations such as the Little Sisters of the Poor. However, a handful of states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, secured a nationwide injunction from the 3rd Circuit blocking the HHS rule. The Trump Administration asked the High Court to reverse.
“Pro-abortion groups and their allies would be happy to see conscience rights crushed and the personal beliefs of millions of Americans violated in pursuit of policies that would force employers or health care plans to pay for procedures such as abortions,” said Tobias.
In their “Blueprint for Sexual and Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice” released in June 2019, 75 pro-abortion groups and their allies called for the removal of policies, laws, and appropriations amendments that currently protect conscience rights. For example, the Blueprint calls for gutting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by removing protections for the free exercise of conscience in situations involving “reproductive rights,” a phrase used by pro-abortion groups to include abortion on demand.
One of the many protective amendments these groups want to see stripped from the annual Health and Human Services appropriations bill is the Weldon Amendment. The Weldon Amendment prevents funds from going to states that would discriminate against health care entities because they do not pay for or provide coverage for abortion. In the Blueprint, these groups argue that the “Weldon Amendment prioritizes a provider’s personal beliefs” and demand that Congress:
● Abolish “the so-called ‘HHS Office of Conscience and Religious Freedom,’ which carries out discriminatory policies such as the Weldon Amendment.”
● “Remove the Weldon amendment from the annual budget, and Congress should pass a Labor-HHS spending bill that is free of this rider.”
“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,” said Tobias.