A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Justice Sotomayor delays contraception mandate.

Late yesterday, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted the request of a community of nuns in Colorado to delay enforcement of the Obama administration's contraception mandate. Her order applies to the Little Sisters of the Poor in Colorado and other nonprofit groups whose health plans are administered by Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust. Sotomayor intervened after a U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver denied the nuns' request earlier on New Year's Eve.

Most news reports lead with the claim that Sotomayor's order blocks the Obama administration from forcing these groups to "provide contraception coverage" to their employees. But of course that's where the dispute lies. The Little Sisters of the Poor claim that the mandate forces them to act against their religious convictions, which, they say, do not allow them to "facilitate" the procurement of artificial contraception. (I find that claim tendentious.) The Obama administration says that religiously affiliated employers don't want to provide such coverage they can opt out, in which case a third party will offer it to employees. I imagine that will be more or less what administration lawyers will say in their reply to Sotomayor's order. She's given them until Friday to respond.

About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

The NY Times article makes a helpful distinction in noting that the Hobby Lobby lawsuit applies to a different class of conscientious objector than the Little Sisters of the Poor.

The root of the problem in this instance is that the original religious exemption in the contraception mandate was written so exceedingly narrowly that the Little Sisters of the Poor does not qualify as a religious organization.  


The cynic in me can't help wondering if the Little Sisters of the Poor joined in this lawsuit simply to prove that they are truly committed to the war on contraception and abortion, and thus dissuade any "Apostolic Visitors" from poking their noses into the Sisters' business.

I wonder if the Little Sisters of the Poor might have been chosen in the hope that one day there would be a lawsuit entitled "Obama vs. Little Sisters of the Poor"!

Angela -  I doubt it.

@ Angela Stockton:  I tend to agree with you because the LSotP seeking to insulate themselves from the political oppression of the hierarchs makes sense considering the church's dominant internal politics.  Besides, everyone knows that the generals [i.e., the hierarchs] in the "war on contraception and abortion" have always been shooting blanks! 

The most interesting aspect of this lastest development for me is the order coming from Justice Sotomayor.  She supported the statute when it previously came before the court - we have to assume that she understood the implications of her concurrence.  So what has changed?

Is this a case of Sonia Sotomayor - nice Catholic girl from the Bronx - feeling sympathetic for the Little Sisters of the Poor, knowing that these women usually minister to the poorest of the poor?

Or is Justice Sotomayor changing of her mind and commitment regarding attempts to provide affordable health care to all, especially women?

Or are the LSotP just looking for a way to continue to maximize their funding stream from the federal government?

Or are the LSotP just being exploited by much more powerful and wealthy corporate interests - at the encouragement of the hierarchs and their reactionary right-wing allies - in the healthcare debate, providing them cover behind the skirts of the begging nuns at the train stations?

Because the Obama administration has already tried to address this issue by forcing the insurance companies to provide these coverages regardless, it will be interesting to see this play out in court.

(I don't think the Little Sisters were among the congregations investigated by the apostolic visitators.)

The Little Sisters of the Poor like the Daughters of St Paul are part of the Catholic Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious of the United States and are not affiliated with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which is the organization that has problems with the Holy See.

It may be, Mr Jenkins, that Occam's Razor provides the answer to the question. The simplest explanation for their behavior is that they are Catholic.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment