On September 24, 2013, the Little Sisters of the Poor became the first group to file a class-action lawsuit against the HHS Mandate, saying that they would be unable to comply with the requirement to provide employees with free access to birth control, sterilization, and abortifacients.
The Little Sisters of the Poor are a Roman Catholic congregation of women religious that was founded in 1839 by Saint Jeanne Jugan. The mission of the order “is to offer the neediest elderly of every race and religion a home where they will be welcomed as Christ, cared for as a family and accompanied with dignity until God calls them to himself.” The order is international and present in more than 30 countries.
The Little Sisters of the Poor own and operate nursing homes and assisted living residences as part of their mission to care for the elderly poor. There are 30 of these homes in the United States alone.
Although there was a well-publicized “religious employers exception” to the HHS Mandate, the Little Sisters of the Poor are not considered to be religious enough to qualify. According to the exception, an employer only qualifies as a “religious” employer if they only employ and serve people of the same religion. As the Little Sisters of the Poor care for everybody regardless of their religious affiliation, they are not considered to be a “religious” employer, despite being a community of religious sisters.
The Little Sisters of the Poor believe that all life is valuable, and that their religious beliefs prohibit them from distributing contraceptives or abortion-causing drugs.
“Like all of the Little Sisters, I have vowed to God and the Roman Catholic Church that I will treat all life as valuable, and I have dedicated my life to that work,” explained Sister Loraine Marie, Superior for one of the three U.S. provinces in the Congregation. “We cannot violate our vows by participating in the government’s program to provide access to abortion inducing drugs.”
The lawsuit was filed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor. The order will face fines from the IRS unless an agreement is made. The Little Sisters of the Poor are the first benefits providers who have filed suit against the Mandate.