Catholics prayed the rosary online Wednesday morning as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments by telephone in the latest chapter of Little Sisters of the Poor’s ongoing legal battle against the HHS contraceptive mandate.
“Join me and many others in prayerful support of the Little Sisters of the Poor. As you may know, the Little Sisters of the Poor are preparing to meet with the Supreme Court of the United States in a fight for religious freedom,” said Sr. Maria Juan, RSM, in an online message posted by the Conference of Major Superiors of Women.
“Since at this time we are unable to gather together in large crowds, we are hosting an online virtual rally, and we hope you will join us, wherever you are,” Sr. Maria Juan added.
“Friends of the Little Sisters of the Poor will offer messages of support,” before the praying the rosary “in preparation” for Supreme Court oral arguments that will take place the same morning.
The Conference of Major Superiors of Women, along with Becket, the nonprofit law firm representing the Little Sisters of the Poor, organized the rally and rosary, which was livestreamed at 8:45 a.m. EDT Wednesday morning on Becket’s Facebook page.
The Supreme Court heard arguments over the telephone at 10 a.m. Wednesday, with the public invited to listen in live.
Oral arguments in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania were scheduled originally for April 29, but the court announced in early April that the arguments would be postponed “in keeping with public health guidance in response to COVID-19,” along with other cases due to have been heard that week and the previous week.
The case of the Little Sisters involves their religious exemption from the HHS contraceptive mandate.
The states of Pennsylvania and California have sued the Trump administration to strip the religious community of their exemption to the mandate. In 2018, the Supreme Court allowed the sisters to intervene in the states’ lawsuits.
“In this trying time for our nation, the Little Sisters of the Poor are dedicated to protecting their elderly residents from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Diana Verm, senior counsel at Becket which represents the sisters in court, in a statement released Friday.
“Now more than ever the sisters need the freedom to focus solely on that mission.”
The Little Sisters of the Poor have spent years in litigation related to the mandate. The 2010 Affordable Care Act mandated certain preventive coverage in health care, and the Obama administration interpreted the mandate to include coverage for contraceptives and sterilizations.
Afterward, the administration announced a process by which non-profits with religious or conscientious objections could notify the government, which in turn would direct their insurer or third-party plan administrator to provide the coverage in employee health plans.
Religious institutions, including the Little Sisters and Catholic dioceses, said that the “accommodation” still forced them to violate their religious beliefs in the provision of morally-objectionable procedures in employee health plans.
The case of the Little Sisters, bundled together with other cases, was heard by the Supreme Court which, in 2016, sent the case back down to lower courts, instructing the religious entities and the government to come to an agreement whereby the wishes of both parties could be attained.
In 2017, the Trump administration issued a rule exempting the Little Sisters and other religious entities from the mandate. State attorneys general for Pennsylvania and California then challenged the exemption in court.
The Little Sisters lost their case against Pennsylvania at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in July of 2019, and lost their case against California at the Ninth Circuit Court in October. They appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed in January to hear their case.