Julie Delegal: The Little Sisters’ ludicrous litigation

Context Florida’s Steve Kurlander applauded U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor for blocking the contraception mandate from the Affordable Care Act, more widely known as “Obamacare. 

Catholic leaders asked her to do it because they didn’t want to provide medical care that violates their religious teachings. The Obama administration has alleviated their concerns, however, by permitting Catholic organizations to simply exempt themselves from the birth-control obligation on religious grounds. Apparently, for The Little Sisters of the Poor, that’s not enough.

The Little Sisters run nonprofit nursing homes.  They want the Supreme Court to extend Sotomayor’s order until litigation is complete.

According to the New York Times, however, the Justice Department says the nuns’ group is exempt from the contraceptives rule, and that they need only self-certify as a religious nonprofit to avoid the mandate.

Essentially, all the Little Sisters have to do is a little paperwork. In their astounding response, however, the sisters contend that signing the exemption would constitute a delegation to other parties to “sin.”

The Little Sisters’ first argument — that they should not have to pay for something they find morally objectionable — is a viable position.  But when they contend they should also be exempt from the knowledge that others, namely insurance companies, are OK with providing birth control, they lose their credibility.

The Little Sisters have crossed the boundary from the realm of religious objections into the Land of Wanting to Control Others.

They can’t declare that they’re exempt from the mandate because if they do, they’ll be acknowledging that others will absorb the costs of the things they don’t want to pay for. They can’t declare themselves without sin, because they are aware that other people in the world are committing what they deem is sin.

Welcome to the human race, sisters. Here’s a tip for living in it:  If you’re going to become paralyzed from acting on your beliefs because you can’t get everyone else in the world on board with you, you may as well not get out of bed in the morning.

Some people who are insured under Catholic employer plans may want to forego feeding tubes, ventilators, or other extreme measures at life’s end. Does acknowledging this truth make passionate Catholics any less passionate about preserving life at all costs? Of course not.

The objections lodged by the Little Sisters raise important questions about how we contract for health insurance in our country.

Where, exactly, does the contract for healthcare insurance lie? Between insured and insurer? Between employer and insurer? Between employer and insured?

Does administering an employee’s health plan give an employer rights over their workers’ medical decisions?

Suppose the answer is yes. Some employers might believe, as a matter of principle rising to religious significance, that psychiatric or behavioral issues should not be treated with medication.

Some corporations might decide that addiction is not a condition that warrants medical treatment, and that substance abuse recovery should not be paid for with their insurance dollars.

Perhaps a company doesn’t believe that reconstructive surgery for women after mastectomy is something they want to spend money on.

Or acne medication.

Or autism treatment.

Did Sotomayor give the green light to employers to pick and choose medical treatments for their employees.

Medical decisions belong between physicians and patients –not patients and their employers. This does not mean that individual consumers must avail themselves of all treatments. Individual patients have the right to choose among medical options, and to forego treatments, including contraceptives.

A practicing Catholic, or a Catholic organization’s employees, would never be forced to use birth control simply because someone is providing it for free. The truth is, though, that lots of Catholics use contraceptives — which brings us back to the Land of Wanting to Control Others.

Oppression has never been the way to win hearts and minds. The way to win hearts and minds is to bond with the people you are called to serve, by showing them through action what love can do.

Refusing to act because there is too much “sin” in the world simply isn’t an option. And it’s a loser of an argument, too.

Julie Delegal


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