TUESDAY, 14 JANUARY 2014

Little Sisters of the Poor and Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate

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Sir Thomas More said he was the king’s good servant, but God’s first.  This modern day version isn’t far off.

They were just minding their business serving the poor, sick and dying when the HHS mandate came down requiring them and other employers to provide healthcare coverage that supplied birth control, the ‘morning-after’ pill (both of which can cause abortion of new human life) and elective sterilization as ‘preventive medicine’ for women, free of charge to those women. Even though birth control is widely available even to women on low incomes or public aid through the Title X federal grant, among other programs.

Before the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in HHS mandate lawsuits in March, I’m planning to do a primer here on the basics, which many people still don’t know, based on a lot of uninformed remarks online and throughout the media about the truth and realities of the mandate, its impetus, its overreach, its punitive threat for non-compliance, and its violation of established law.

But the ruling Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued late on New Year’s Eve shed a lot of light on the controversy, and made the Little Sisters of the Poor the unlikely emblem of conscientious objection to government intrusion on basic human rights.

U.S. News & World Report published this backlash calling Sotomayor’s ruling a ‘war on women’, saying she can’t be trusted on “women’s health and human rights”. And that was only the beginning of a tirade on her and the high court, because of its Catholic justices.

HotAir.com tried to navigate that piece.

It’s difficult to pick a place to start with Jamie Stiehm’s anti-Catholic diatribe yesterday that US News’ editors somehow decided to publish as part of their opinion section. It’s such a target-rich environment that it challenges the restrictions of fair use and copyright law, but so ludicrously entertaining that it rises to must-read level. Stiehm uses the issuance of a very temporary stay by Justice Sonia Sotomayor in the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor to argue that Catholics have seized control of the Supreme Court — and really should be excluded from any position of power at all:

"Et tu, Justice Sonia Sotomayor? Really, we can’t trust you on women’s health and human rights? The lady from the Bronx just dropped the ball on American women and girls as surely as she did the sparkling ball at midnight on New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Or maybe she’s just a good Catholic girl.

"The Supreme Court is now best understood as the Extreme Court. One big reason why is that six out of nine Justices are Catholic. Let’s be forthright about that. (The other three are Jewish.) Sotomayor, appointed by President Obama, is a Catholic who put her religion ahead of her jurisprudence. What a surprise, but that is no small thing."

Let’s test that hypothesis. How many key decisions have been made by the Supreme Court on a 6-3, Catholic/Jewish basis? After all, if Catholicism is the deciding factor in American jurisprudence, then that’s the kind of split we’d most often see, no? Either that or nothing but 9-0 decisions, since Catholics and Jews share a common basis for faith, philosophy, and moral law.

And what has Stiehm so steamed? Not an actual decision by Sotomayor, or even an opinion. Sotomayor issued a temporary stay in enforcing the HHS contraception mandate on Catholic nuns, who would otherwise have to facilitate birth-control insurance coverage or face ruinous fines. Apparently, even an interruption in this mandate rises to the level of gender treason and theocracy.

But never mind facts. When someone is so angry they can become irrational.

Does Stiehm know that nuns are celibate and therefore don’t require birth control, free or otherwise? And that they clearly don’t want birth-control coverage? A mandate that requires nuns to sign a waiver that facilitates coverage of birth control is farcical on its face. Talk about imposing beliefs. The nuns (and other plaintiffs against the mandate with stronger cases) aren’t attempting to prevent employers from providing birth control; they’re trying to stop the government from forcing them to distribute and pay for it, directly or indirectly.

Read the whole piece, Ed Morrissey does his level best to tackle the points of the US News piece.

Elizabeth Scalia has been blogging on this, wondering if US News would issue a correction or apology or some sort of acknowledgement that their pages had allowed such an ‘unprofessional screed’. What they did issue, she contends, was an approval of the unhinged piece Stiehm originally wrote in reaction to Sotomayor’s ruling.

The long-awaited statement from U.S. News was released yesterday evening. Editor Brian Kelly has this to say, regarding Jamie Stiehm’s column dated January 7:

“…We are committed to publishing a diversity of views on a variety of topics. Jamie Stiehm’s piece is within the bounds of fair commentary. We have run letters rebutting the piece and will continue to feature a diversity of opinions on this topic and others.”

That’s weak; a very shortsighted response. Stiehm’s piece was not a standard professional commentary; it was a full-scale, blanket condemnation of a particular set of people, flavored with a strong suggestion that those sorts of people should probably be excluded from the public square.

Let’s take a second look at what Stiehm wrote, insert words other than “Catholic” into her lines, and we can wonder whether Mr. Kelly would be quite so cavalier about printing the following:

(Note: This is a thought experiment by Scalia replacing only Catholic identifiers with other identify groups, and otherwise leaving the accusations in place.)

Lesbians often try to impose their beliefs on you, me, public discourse and institutions. Especially if “you” are female.

Jews in high places of power have the most trouble, I’ve noticed, practicing the separation of church and state. The pugnacious Jewish Justice. . .is the most aggressive offender on the Court, but not the only one.

The seemingly innocent Black Sisters likely were likely not acting alone in their trouble-making. Their big brothers, the meddlesome NAACP are bound to be involved. [Blacks] seek and wield tremendous power and influence in the political sphere.

In one stroke with ominous implications, there’s no such thing as Gay justice or mercy for women on the Supreme Court, not even from GLAAD.

The Dome of the Rock refuses to budge on women’s reproductive right. . .

(Thought experiment ends here. Scalia continues:)

I am going to make a good-faith assumption that Mr. Kelly did not attempt that little exercise before handing down the statement. Had he done so, I find it very difficult to believe that he (or op-ed page Managing Editor, Robert Schlesinger) would still think it fell “within the bounds of fair commentary.”

Or, perhaps they would, and if so they need to admit it. Their readership certainly deserves to know what they stand for, and if U.S. News is going to embrace such a radical editorial policy, they might as well put it out there and say, “yes, we would be just as content with Stiehm’s column if she had expressed exactly these sentiments about Lesbians, or Jews, or African Americans, or Gay men, or Muslims, because we agree that there are some kinds of people who simply should not be trusted to participate in American governance, and it’s time to stop being so politically correct and say it.”

That would almost be refreshing, truth be told.

Until, of course, people understood that this is how jackboots are constructed.

I hope U.S. News will give it another shot. As I said in this piece, the knee-jerk habit of silencing anyone — left or right — who misspeaks or says something stupid or even vile, does not allow for education, reconciliation, enlightenment or enlarged thinking, and I have never supported it. We need to move beyond making people “go away”, because scalp-collecting begs retaliation. And too, we really do need to know what people actually think, not merely what they say. That way, there are no surprises when movements spring up.

But clarity of purpose is required, and as regards this matter, things are still murky. When I asked Schlesinger if he cared to comment further, he declined, so we still need answers: Why, precisely, does U.S. News think Stiehm’s piece fine and fair, as it is, and to what end do they defend it? Are they saying “let ‘er rip” and endorsing full-scale hate speech as something good and necessary — the inevitable corrective to thirty years of hedging language, used in service to ersatz and redefined notions of “tolerance” and “sensitivity”? If that’s what they’re intending, that might at least be interesting and some people may even applaud it; the policing of public language has left us leery of each other, flocking to echo chambers that feel “safe” but have furthered our polarization.

If U.S. News intends a correction in public dialogue, let them own it.

USA Today’s editorial board published this. Their view on ‘Obamacare overreach’: ‘Nuns and birth control don’t mix’

When the Obama administration picked a fight with Catholics and other religious groups over free birth control coverage for employees, sooner or later it was bound to end up doing battle with a group like the Little Sisters of the Poor.

And sure enough, the administration is now stuck arguing that it is justified in compelling nuns who care for the elderly poor to assist in offering health insurance that they say conflicts with their religious beliefs. Talk about a political loser…

Wisely, churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the requirement, but the administration wrote rules so narrowly that they failed to exempt Catholic and other religiously affiliated hospitals, colleges and charities. Its position was constitutionally suspect, politically foolish and ultimately unproductive. The number of women affected is likely so small that the administration could find some less divisive way to provide the coverage.

Instead, the administration is battling Catholic bishops and nuns, Southern Baptists, Christ-centered colleges and assorted religious non-profits that filed challenges across the country. The lawsuits stem from an “accommodation” President Obama offered after his too-narrow religious exemption caused an uproar in 2012.

The accommodation is more of a fig leaf than a fix: Although religiously affiliated non-profits do not have to supply birth control coverage themselves, they must sign a certification that allows their insurance companies to provide it instead. Some non-profits have acquiesced, but not the Little Sisters and others who argue that this makes them complicit in an act that violates a tenet of their faith. If the non-profits refuse to sign, they face ruinous fines — $4.5 million a year for just two of the Little Sisters’ 30 homes.

So far, the government is on a losing streak. In 19 of 20 cases, including the Little Sisters’, judges have granted preliminary relief to the non-profits, allowing them to press their claims. The administration should take the hint.

In several cases, even if the government wins, the whole exercise will not result in a single woman getting a single free contraceptive, because under a different law, the insurers themselves are exempt. So what exactly does the administration hope to gain?

Finally, some good questions and attempts at more thorough reporting on the issues surrounding the HHS mandate .

Evangelical leader Dr. Timothy George published this thoughtful piece in First Things Monday.

It is not surprising that abortion extremists have blasted the justice [Sotomayor] for “selling out the sisterhood” and for being “just a good Catholic girl” who “put her religion ahead of her jurisprudence.”

Earlier on the same day, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent a letter to President Obama on behalf of his fellow bishops. He asked the president to use his executive authority to broaden the religious exemption to provide relief to many Catholics and other Christians in non-profit institutions affected by the mandate. In particular, he appealed on behalf of those whose religiously informed conscience will not allow them to provide—or to “designate” others to provide for them—sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. Of course, such things are legally available at moderate costs in this country and could readily be given to all without forcing the Little Sisters and others to go through this conscience-crushing exercise. The situation could also be ameliorated by the government’s simply recognizing the Little Sisters as a “religious employer” which, by any commonsense definition, they clearly are. The Kurtz letter urged the president to offer “temporary relief from this mandate, as you have for so many other individuals and groups facing other requirements under the ACA.” To my knowledge, His Excellency has yet to receive a response.

How did a modest order of women religious—only 2,700 members worldwide—with a mission to care for the elderly poor become the center of a raging social and political controversy?

Dr. George examines the history of the Little Sisters of the Poor and the legacy of their founder.

Jeanne Jugan, who was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, has been called the Mother Teresa of her times…

So why are the Little Sisters caught up in the mandate madness? Why can’t they just get on with their good works and forget about their conscientious scruples? Or, as has been suggested, why won’t they just sign a piece of paper and let someone else do their dirty work—surrogate soldiers and contract killings are quite common in some circles.

The answer is quite simple: They actually believe all that stuff they claim to believe. Just like the early Christians who refused to place a pinch of incense on the altar of the imperial deity in order to escape reprisals and recrimination, the Little Sisters of the Poor know, as St. Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth, that they are not their own, that they do not belong to themselves, that they have been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20). The Little Sisters will not violate their core values for the sake of expediency. Among those values is this one: “Reverence for the sacredness of human life and for the uniqueness of each person, especially those who are poorest and/or weakest. This is reflected in care that is holistic and person-centered.”

On April 8, 2013, the Little Sisters responded to the “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” from the Department of Health and Human Services by stating that “the federal government should not force us to counteract through the health benefits for our employees the very same Gospel of Life that we attempt to live out in communion and solidarity with the needy elderly.”

This should be self-evident.

George concludes with this anecdote.

On New Year’s Eve, as Americans first heard about Justice Sotomayor’s ruling—some cheering, some bemoaning—the delightful and spontaneous Pope Francis in Rome picked up the phone to make a surprise call, as he is wont to do. He was trying to reach a group of Carmelite nuns in Spain in order to wish them a Happy New Year. Instead, he got that most annoying of modern contrivances, the answering machine. In the message he left, the pope wondered what the good sisters were doing on New Year’s Eve that they could not answer the phone (in fact, they were praying). He promised to call them back, which he did.

I can think of no group that better exemplifies the mission and heart of Pope Francis with his winsome call for mercy and ministry to the poor, the neglected, the least wanted in our society than the Little Sisters of the Poor. Abortion and contraception are not the central concerns of their day-to-day ministry and work. But their consciences have been well formed on these issues by the best of Catholic teaching, including this statement by Pope Francis last August, often reiterated before and since, that “human life must always be defended from its beginning in the womb.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Holy Father, prompted by the Spirit, would be led to call the Little Sisters of the Poor? I believe they would answer the phone.



This article is published by Sheila Liaugminas and MercatorNet.com under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

 
 

Sheila Reports promises a perspective here that you may not be getting in mainstream media and the politically charged blogosphere. Don’t expect political correctness, because politics doesn’t determine what’s correct. This space is grounded in the natural law and moral order. And it expects civility, goodwill and an openness to truth and reason.


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