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August 28 2015

IWF petitions on behalf of Little Sisters against HHS contraception mandate

Inside Counsel
Hadley Heath

The Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) is a conservative non-profit in the United States that recently filed an amicus curiae brief in support of Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged — a group that has petitioned the Supreme Court to take up its case against the Department of Health and Human Services. 

The IWF argues that the 2012 mandate under the Affordable Care Act that requires all employer-sponsored insurance to cover a comprehensive list of contraceptive drugs and procedures without imposing any cost-sharing on the consumers at the time of service is not just pitting women against religious communities that object to the use of contraception, it is a mandate that will have adverse consequences on public health, distort health care markets, particularly for contraception, and threatens First Amendment rights.

In 2012, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic institute for women. The class action lawsuit sought protection for the Little Sisters and other Catholic ministries that provide health benefits consistent with their faith. Through various court decisions, including the Supreme Court’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which ruled that the government cannot force family-owned businesses to provide contraception through their employee insurance plans if it violates their religious beliefs, the Little Sisters seemed to be in the clear. But the 10th Circuit ruled against the Little Sisters this summer. The IWF’s appeal — which quotes the Bible in its Table of Authorities — in support of the Little Sisters says: 

“Under the rules promulgated by HRSA, the Little Sisters of the Poor would be exempt from the contraceptive mandate had they organized their ministry under the authority of the Catholic Bishop. And while they could have chosen to do so, the Sisters determined that the best way to provide for the elderly poor was to fund, operate, and control the ministry themselves. According to the Government, the Sisters’ conscience rights turn on the organizational form of their ministry. On the basis of their ministry form, the Government seeks to force the Sisters to violate the convictions of their faith, or alternatively, to fine them millions of dollars a year.”

What is the IWF’s solution? A policy that gives insurance companies, employers, families and individuals the freedom to purchase insurance policies that reflect their preferences and their needs instead of a “one-size-fits-all” policy, as it says. Its Director of Health Policy, Hadley Heath Manning, stated:

“As with the Hobby Lobby case, this case is about more than contraception. It is about the principles of liberty that animate our Constitution. It is about empowering women to choose the healthcare and salary options that best fit their needs. And it is about empowering charitable employers, many lead by women, to follow their deeply held religious convictions—regardless of the form of their charitable entity. Women do not check their religious liberty rights at the office door.” 

It remains to be seen if the IWF can be successful in persuading the courts that the HHS mandate works contrary to women’s interests and will restrict women’s flexibility to customize their compensation and benefits, as it says.

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Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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