In the 1940 animated film Pinocchio, the titular character learned a valuable lesson thanks to his friend Jiminy Cricket: “Always let your conscience be your guide.” Throughout the film, Pinocchio runs into trouble by ignoring his “conscience.” The film has taught generations of children and adults alike the value of holding true to what your conscience tells you.
Unfortunately, we now live in a time where some government bureaucrats want to punish people who live by their conscience.
In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) took a step toward stopping some of this punishment. HHS issued rules exempting non-profit organizations from paying for contraception and abortions in their health plans if they had a religious or conscientious objection. Outraged at the thought of allowing pro-life groups to provide health care coverage consistent with their beliefs, several states sued HHS.
Now, the Little Sisters of the Poor and the March for Life are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to solidify conscience rights for Americans once and for all.
Let’s take a look.
Where It All Began
Conestoga Wood Specialties is operated by the Hahns, a Christian Mennonite family. The business creates beautiful custom-made wood cabinets. The Hahns run their business in a manner that reflects their Christian beliefs. That’s why, when HHS mandated in 2011 that employers provide abortion pill coverage under the Affordable Care Act, they fought back. Ultimately, the Hahns ended up beside the Green family, the owners of Hobby Lobby, at the U.S. Supreme Court.
In June 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that federal law protects the two family businesses from being forced by the Obama administration’s HHS abortion pill mandate to violate to their beliefs.
While the Supreme Court affirmed the freedoms of these family businesses, the issue was far from over. Numerous lawsuits against the abortion pill mandate continued in the courts, including lawsuits brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor and March for Life, which are not family businesses but likewise have conscience-based objections to providing abortion-inducing drugs.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
In 2017, with HHS under a new administration, pro-life organizations like Little Sisters and March for Life received a welcome lifeline when HHS announced a temporary rule intended to resolve such lawsuits. Later, in 2018, HHS announced its final rules that would stop the punishment of organizations that could not pay for abortion-pill coverage without violating their religious or moral beliefs. But before these rules had a chance to go into effect, California, Pennsylvania, and several other states sued to block the rules. The plaintiff states argued that while HHS had authority to require employers to include abortifacients and contraceptives in their health plans, HHS lacked the authority to include religious and moral objections.
The Little Sisters and March for Life intervened in these cases to defend the new HHS rules.
In January, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania later this year. Alliance Defending Freedom and March for Life filed a friend-of-the-court brief this week in support of the Little Sisters. March for Life also has its own lawsuit, and has filed a cert petition asking the Supreme Court to consider its case as well.
Little Sisters and March for Life are both non-profit organizations. But unlike Little Sisters, March for Life operates solely as a pro-life, moral entity. The pro-life movement is populated by the religious and non-religious alike, and the March for Life seeks to amplify those voices.
ADF Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch explains the necessity of these lawsuits at National Review:
March for Life is one of the oldest and best-known pro-life organizations in the country. To say it opposes abortion is an understatement: That opposition is the reason the organization exists. Although March for Life is non-religious, the organization enjoys the new HHS moral exemption. And that makes perfect sense, because the organization’s employees all oppose abortion, too.
ADF and March for Life are urging the Court not only to uphold the religious and moral exemption but to reaffirm the country’s commitment to honoring freedom of conscience. Such freedom benefits everyone, no matter their beliefs.
All sides of the abortion debate should agree that no one should be forced to pay for or participate in abortion—least of all pro-life groups like March for Life and the Little Sisters of the Poor.
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