by Constance Veit, director of vocations for the Little Sisters of the Poor
from The New York Times,
TWENTY-EIGHT years ago, I vowed to consecrate my life to living with, loving and caring for the elderly poor. Since then, I have been blessed to live in a community of women who seek to treat every elderly person in our care with love and respect — as if we were caring for Christ himself.
Over our 175-year history, my charity, the Little Sisters of the Poor, has been focused on service, not advocacy or policy. Nevertheless, we have been forced into the spotlight over our position regarding a regulation issued under the Affordable Care Act, namely that we provide health insurance coverage for birth control. On Dec. 31, 2013, Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a temporary stay against the requirement, just hours before it was to go into effect. Next week, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in our case against the Department of Health and Human Services, Zubik v. Burwell
we’ve been saddened this past year to see misinformation about our pending Supreme Court case result in pain and confusion on all sides of this issue.
First, given how politicized the Affordable Care Act has become, it’s important to clarify that our case is not a challenge to the act, and winning our case in no way endangers it. We’re merely asking the court to ensure that Health and Human Services adjusts a regulation it developed that would force us to change our religious health plan and start offering benefits that violate our religious beliefs.
Second, some have mistakenly claimed that we can just sign a piece of paper and receive an exemption. Indeed, Health and Human Services claims it “accommodated” our religious beliefs and offered us an “opt-out.”
I wish that were true. In fact, the government has candidly told the Supreme Court that we “don’t get an exemption” at all. Rather, what Health and Human Services is calling an “opt-out” is really an “opt-in” — a permission slip where we authorize the use of our religious health plan to offer services that violate our beliefs and waive our protections under federal civil rights laws. That’s why they need our signature.
The government says this isn’t a problem because it will pay for the services that violate our religious beliefs. But for us this is not a money question; it is a moral question about what we offer in our plan. It’s similar to high schools that have removed soda machines from their property because they don’t think soda is good for children. It doesn’t matter that the soda companies will pay for the machines. And, the school’s decision doesn’t prevent children from getting soda elsewhere. The school simply doesn’t want to be responsible for providing something it believes is bad for its students. It is the same with us.
We follow Catholic teaching that abortion and contraception are wrong, but it is very important to understand that this case is not about women’s access to contraception. The administration already exempts many secular corporations like Exxon Mobil and Visa from having to provide the services we are objecting to, because those companies never updated their plans and are “grandfathered.” Add in the exempted plans for military families, the uninsured and cities like New York, and about a third of all Americans don’t have plans covered by this mandate.
We recognize that not everyone agrees with us, and that the government will make laws and provide services we don’t support. But in a free and diverse society, the American government should not force its citizens to act in violation of their religious beliefs, especially when there are so many exemptions already.
Finally, some have argued that the Little Sisters aren’t a religious group — that our willingness to care for the elderly poor regardless of their religious beliefs and hire people to help provide that care who haven’t taken the same vows we have means we’re a social service organization, not a religious one. But Jesus never demanded that the poor demonstrate strict adherence to religious doctrine before helping them.
Our goal with this case is to have the freedom to follow our conscience in what we do and offer. The women who take the vows to become Little Sisters of the Poor do so out of deep love and religious conviction. We spend our days caring for, learning from, and serving those whom many in our society would prefer to forget. All we are asking is that the government allow us to continue that work.
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