Life Line - Nuns and Undercover Journalists

Little Sisters of the Poor fight for freedom of conscience, and Daleiden sues a prominent senator.

Thursday, May 14th, 2020

Sisters return to court

“Fierce” is generally not a word that one would attribute to a group of nuns. They are known primarily for their kindness, their empathy, and their faith, as well as their compassion and love for humanity. However, over the past few years, a group of these confident Catholics has been fighting an ongoing war on the legal battlefield, and perhaps they should indeed be considered tenacious warriors from now on.

On Wednesday, May 7, the Little Sisters of the Poor, a religious Catholic organization that seeks to care for impoverished elders around the world, found themselves once again standing before the highest court in the land. Metaphorically speaking, of course, since teleconferencing was utilized due to the coronavirus pandemic. In a rather unprecedented move, the Supreme Court decided to consolidate the arguments of Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, Trump v. Pennsylvania, and other cases relating to contraceptive provisions in health care, bringing the Little Sisters back to the forefront of the abortion debate.

The issue in question had been simmering for a decade, ever since Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act included a mandate that threatened religious liberty and the pro-life movement. Under this reform, hospitals, schools, social service organizations, and other entities were forced to provide abortion pills, abortion-inducing drugs, and other contraceptives within their healthcare plans despite severe moral and religious objections. The Sisters had a choice to make; they could violate their deeply held beliefs or face steep fines and punishments.

This brazenly unconstitutional hijacking of health care caused the sisters to begin an ongoing fight for their liberty. The Sisters won victories in 2016 when the Supreme Court granted them an exemption from paying for contraceptives, and in 2017 when the Trump administration granted them complete exemption from providing any contraceptives at all.

One would hope that these decisions would lay the matter to rest once and for all, but that was unfortunately not the case. Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro responded to the 2017 Trump ruling by filing a lawsuit against the administration and the Sisters, seeking to eliminate the regulations that granted them exemptions.

Now, in 2020, the Little Sisters of the Poor returned to the highest court in the land (virtually) to once again make oral arguments to defend and preserve their religious liberty. As the justices considered how far the government can go to accommodate religious liberty, Shapiro’s lawyers claimed that the exemptions were detrimental to women’s health care rights, while attorneys for the Trump administration and the Little Sisters of the Poor claimed that the government is not limited whatsoever in the accommodations it should make for religious freedom. While a decision has not yet been made, we can gather some important information from last week’s arguments that will help us predict the case’s outcome. 

One justice that was clearly in favor of Shapiro’s lawsuit was Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She maintained that these exemptions “toss to the wind” Congress’s instructions that women should receive full access to comprehensive, reproductive health care. She said that it “[rubs] against our history of accommodation, of tolerance, of respect for divergent views.” The veteran of the bench, Clarence Thomas, brought up the potential for a nationwide injunction and also expressed concerns that the Trump administration might not have the authority to make the exemption ruling that they did. Thomas’s comments were rather unprecedented, as he rarely engages in an extensive discussion from the bench, although he has been more outspoken since teleconferencing has been implemented. The newbies, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, also expressed concerns regarding the authority of the Trump administration, but it appeared their concerns were appeased by the close of the arguments. Sonia Sotomayor argued that this exemption would be no different from an organization potentially refusing to include a Covid-19 vaccine in their healthcare plan, thus setting a dangerous precedent, according to her.

Despite these tough arguments in favor of Shapiro’s lawsuit, there were plenty of encouraging signs for the Sisters throughout the day. Chief Justice John Roberts appeared frustrated that the Zubik v. Burwell case of 2016, which granted businesses and colleges exemptions from providing birth control, hadn’t resolved this issue. Samuel Alito, too, brought up past court decisions, such as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, in order to argue in favor of the Sisters. Moreover, he said, “If a person sincerely believes that it is immoral to perform an act that has the effect of enabling another person to commit an immoral act, a federal court does not have the right to say that this person is wrong on the question of moral complicity.” Elena Kagan surprisingly respected the Sisters position, and she understood their consistent viewpoint, calling it a “complicity-based objection.” Stephen Breyer also came to their defense by debunking and dismissing Shapiro’s claim that the Trump administration somehow violated the federal administrative procedures act. 

So what does all this mean? Well, in short, it seems likely that the court will rule in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor. Roberts, Alito, Kavanaugh, will almost assuredly vote against Shapiro, and despite Thomas’s and Gorsuch’s apparent reservations, they likely will as well. In addition, it is entirely possible that Kagan also votes against Shapiro’s lawsuit, possibly even Breyer as well, although that remains to be seen. Ginsburg and Sotomayor will more than likely vote against the Sisters. All things considered, I expect a 6-3 ruling in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Trump Administration. And so it should be. 

Josh Shapiro’s lawsuit is an encapsulation of the current fight against religious and conscientious liberty that exists in the United States. The Little Sisters of the Poor have an entirely legitimate objection to providing contraceptives in their healthcare plan, and the Supreme Court has a duty to uphold their rights. America has a beautiful, longstanding history of protecting and respecting freedom of religion, and this lawsuit is a dangerous threat to that precedent. This is a fundamental principle of our nation. The Sisters believe that every life is a gift from God, both born and unborn, and the act of abortion ends the life of a living, human being. They must not be forced to violate their consciences by providing contraceptive services in their health care. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will make the right decision to protect this essential liberty. 

Former presidential candidate sued

California Senator Kamala Harris may have dropped out of the Democratic presidential race months ago, but that doesn’t mean she’s out of the public spotlight. Harris is currently being sued by undercover journalist David Daleiden for allegedly seeking to violate his civil rights through a fraudulent prosecution.

Five years ago, Daleiden, a pro-life advocate and undercover journalist, released undercover footage that appeared to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing purchasing of aborted fetal tissue. He then began an investigation into their dealings. Consequently, Harris and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra initiated a prosecution on the grounds that Daleiden was in violation of the state’s eavesdropping law, and Daleiden countered by accusing them of journalistic suppression. Moreover, he maintains that Harris’s prosecution was political deceit, since Harris had meetings with Planned Parenthood regarding Daleiden’s investigation. Now, Daleiden is suing Harris on the claim of a corrupt prosecution.

While David Daleiden has been discredited by some as an illegitimate journalist and his actions as a breach of privacy, the content of his investigations is what truly matters in this case. Of course, Planned Parenthood maintains that the discussions which Daleiden recorded had nothing to do with fetal tissue, but instead refer to staff salaries and transportation. This, however, does not appear to be true, as Planned Parenthood invoices relating to the discussion specifically reference price per aborted baby part. Moreover, recently revealed documents have shown that Planned Parenthood charged a bio-specimen company a quarter of a million dollars for fetal tissue and blood samples in 2012.

If Daleiden is proven to have acted in deception, he’ll likely face charges, but if Planned Parenthood was lying, he’ll probably be awarded some form of monetary settlement. That being said, many Washington elitists have Planned Parenthood in their back pocket, evidenced by multi-million dollar donations. So whatever happens to Daleiden, odds are that Planned Parenthood gets off scot-free. 

The Life Line is an overview of the latest news on abortion, contraceptives, and other critically important life issues written by Caleb Steindel. Editions will be published every other Thursday.