Little Sisters Fight for Religious Freedom
It’s not just about contraception; it’s about good stewardship.

Among the many Americans facing the effects of the health-care law are religious sisters who run homes for the elderly. These sisters live lives of service to some of the most vulnerable among us. And they are threatened by Obamacare. On Monday, President Obama claimed that the House had moved against women’s contraception access. Actually, over the weekend, the House sent the Senate a continuing resolution that would delay the coercive effects of the HHS mandate, which requires religious organizations to provide abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and female sterilization to employees against their consciences.

Come January, when health-care coverage starts under the ACA, those cared for by the Little Sisters of the Poor are among the many who will be hurt if religious organizations are not exempted from the mandate. Last week, the Sisters, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, filed the first class-action court case against the mandate. Sister Constance Veit, L.S.P., communications director for the Little Sisters of the Poor, talks with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about the lawsuit, the threat, and the lives of the Sisters.


KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Why are you getting involved in political issues?

Sister CONSTANCE VEIT, L.S.P: For us, this has nothing to do with politics. It is a question of respect for every human life created in God’s image, and of fidelity to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, and our religious vows.

Our lives are usually quite hidden and we never seek to be in the public eye. In April we filed comments with the government explaining how the HHS mandate would require us to violate our religious beliefs, and we hoped that the issue would be resolved in the final rule that came out in June. Unfortunately, the government would not give us a religious exemption, leaving us with no choice but to ask the courts for help so we can avoid IRS fines. We just want to take care of the elderly poor without being forced to violate the faith that animates our work.

LOPEZ: Why are you suing the Department of Health and Human Services?

SISTER CONSTANCE: We are filing a lawsuit because the federal government is trying to force us to violate our Catholic beliefs by providing insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs and devices, sterilization procedures, and contraceptives. We are simply asking the courts to protect us from the government’s effort to force us to do so.

LOPEZ: How is the HHS mandate going to hurt you?

SISTER CONSTANCE: Non-compliance with the mandate would incur huge fines, constituting a severe financial burden for us and diverting much-needed funds away from the care of the poor. As it stands now, to offer our employees health insurance without free access to abortion-inducing drugs and devices, sterilization procedures, and contraceptives would risk fines of $100 per day per affected individual. For a home with 50 insured employees, this would mean fines of nearly $2 million per year. Similar fines could be imposed on each of our 30 U.S. homes! This is a tremendous price to pay for continuing our mission, since we already rely on donations for about half of our operating expenses in most of our homes.

Several people have asked how we can justify using our limited funds to pursue this lawsuit. I would like to make clear that the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is representing us pro bono, as they do all their clients, so thankfully we have not been forced to spend money that should be going to the poor on this case.

LOPEZ: Could you actually have to shut down homes?

SISTER CONSTANCE: Even though we would never be able to afford the fines, we have no plans to close any of our homes. The government has already exempted many other employers from the mandate and we expect that the courts will require them to exempt us as well. God has taken care of the Little Sisters of the Poor for nearly 200 years and we are confident in His providence and protection.