In a surprising (but hopeful!) turn of events, the Supreme Court has just sent the Little Sisters of the Poor case back to the lower courts. I’m optimistic that this will be a step forward for the Little Sisters, religious liberty, and women’s true health and freedom–but much remains to be seen.
First, the Justice’s opinion vacates the earlier appeals court decisions (five of which favored the HHS mandate AGAINST the Little Sisters and their co-plaintiffs). It basically asks the lower courts to start over, but with new information from the oral arguments and briefs.
Second, their opinion indicates that the Sisters’ religious liberty should be protected with a new compromise.
While this news is a positive development, the battle is far from won. The lower courts are asked to find an approach that “accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans ‘receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.’” The Court appears to take it for granted that the seamless provision of contraception to women is a good thing, a point strongly made in the concurring opinion by Justice Sotomayor.
The Supreme Court’s opinion also leaves many questions unanswered, making it clear that “the Court does not decide whether petitioners’ religious exercise has been substantially burdened, whether the Government has a compelling interest, or whether the current regulations are the least restrictive means of serving that interest.” Each of these questions could have been decided in the Little Sisters’ favor, offering a positive resolution not only for them but for future religious freedom cases.
So the Little Sisters’ future is still uncertain. The lower courts could decide on any number of “compromises”, some of which might be unacceptable to the Little Sisters or those who share their beliefs.Our work is not nearly over. We must continue to raise our voices on behalf of the Little Sisters. We must show the world the importance of protecting their freedom to teach the truth about human sexuality and to serve those most in need.
I hope that all of you will continue to submit op-eds, write blog posts, and start conversations on social media. When the time comes, I hope you will hold rallies at the lower courts and do your part to ensure that the Little Sisters can continue to serve. I am so proud and grateful for all of your efforts leading up to this point. May we be heartened as we continue to protect and advance freedom for women!