California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Joe Biden’s reported selection for secretary of Health and Human Services, sued the Little Sisters of the Poor for refusing to accept the Obamacare contraception mandate.
“Becerra spent years tormenting the Little Sisters of the Poor in court, trying to force them to pay for things like abortion pills against their consciences. He also led efforts to force pro-life pregnancy resource centers to advertise for abortion,” said Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow at the Catholic Association.
The Little Sisters’ refusal of the mandate arose from their understanding of Church teaching, making their refusal a first amendment issue both in virtue of conscience and free exercise.
The HHS regulation originally crafted by the Obama administration was not simple: it mandated that all employers – including non-profit employers – offer what HHS called the “full range” of options falling under the “preventive care” rubric (including sterilizations and abortifacients); it declared that Catholic schools, hospitals, charities, etc., are non-profit employers sic et simpliciter – which is to say that they are not religious enterprises at all.
The presupposition upon which the rationale behind the policy rested, in other words, was that religious groups and institutions cease to exercise themselves in a way that the civil authority must recognize as essential to those institutions’ character and ethos, hence that the groups and organisations have no claim to any special or particular right, privilege or immunity.
The Little Sisters, and others for them, argued that such an understanding is inconsistent with both the plain text of the US Constitution and the common understanding of religion’s role in civil society.
If the HHS mandate were correctly crafted, the argument ran, then the works of mercy would not be properly religious activities at all, precisely because they serve the common good. The Little Sisters and others found that line of reasoning unreasonable and at odds with the understanding of religion’s role and place in society, as expressed in law and protected by the courts.
Becerra was the co-chair of the “Catholics for Biden” campaign along with Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia.