March 23, 2016

2 young women, 2 polar views on contraception case

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(Left) Katie Breslin, a Catholic and supporter of abortion rights, outside the Supreme Court on March 23, 2016, as the justices listened to arguments in Zubik v. Burwell. The case considers non-profits that object to complying with the part of the Affordable Care Act that requires that employees' insurance to cover an array of birth control. (Right) Katie Stone, a college student who traveled from Oklahoma Wesleyan University to the Supreme Court to support the plaintiffs in Zubik v. Burwell. The case, heard by the justices on March 23, 2016, considers non-profits that object to complying with the part of the Affordable Care Act that requires that employees' insurance to cover an array of birth control. Religion News Service photos by Lauren Markoe

(Left) Katie Breslin, a Catholic and supporter of abortion rights, outside the Supreme Court on March 23, 2016, as the justices listened to arguments in Zubik v. Burwell. The case considers non-profits that object to complying with the part of the Affordable Care Act that requires that employees' insurance to cover an array of birth control. (Right) Katie Stone, a college student who traveled from Oklahoma Wesleyan University to the Supreme Court to support the plaintiffs in Zubik v. Burwell. The case, heard by the justices on March 23, 2016, considers non-profits that object to complying with the part of the Affordable Care Act that requires that employees' insurance to cover an array of birth control. Religion News Service photos by Lauren Markoe

WASHINGTON (RNS) Amid the helium balloons, dance music, chants and counterchants, Katie Stone and Katie Breslin spelled out their opposing views outside the Supreme Court as the justices inside heard one of the most contentious cases of the year.

The two 20-something Christians, both motivated by faith, say the justices’ ruling in Zubik v. Burwell could affirm or weaken the most basic of rights. The case asks whether religious nonprofits must comply with the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, or whether it violates the federal law that sets a high bar for government infringement on religious rights.

Stone traveled for 21 hours from her evangelical Oklahoma university to Washington, D.C., so she could rally against the mandate as an affront to religious freedom. Breslin, who is Catholic, said her conscience leads her to support the mandate because it protects women’s right to health care and self-determination.

Stone, 20, a freshman at Oklahoma Wesleyan University, said she must stand with the Little Sisters of the Poor, one of seven plaintiffs suing the Obama administration in the case. “They are being told that they have to provide life-ending drugs and life-ending processes that we don’t even believe in,” she said. “That doesn’t seem like religious freedom at all, because we’re being told to support something that we don’t believe in.”

Breslin, 24, who moved to Washington, D.C., from her native Pennsylvania to attend Trinity Washington University, a Catholic women’s college, said the federal government has offered sufficient accommodations for the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious groups that don’t want to comply with the mandate. The wrong ruling in the case would threaten the rights of women to the contraceptives that are such a key part of their health care, she said.

“My faith, my Catholicism, has brought me to my pro-choice activism. I can’t see one without the other,” said Breslin, who chairs the Women’s Information Network, a forum of young Democratic women who support abortion rights. “I believe each person has the right to make decisions based on their consciences. My conscience and my decision to use birth control are based on my faith.”


RELATED STORY: Supreme Court deeply divided over religious freedom, reproductive rights


The Roman Catholic Church in which Breslin was raised rejects all forms of artificial birth control, though as many Catholic as non-Catholic American women — upward of 98 percent of those of childbearing age — will use it within their lifetimes. The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic order that cares for the elderly, is the face of Zubik v. Burwell, and many of the Little Sisters gathered outside the court to cheer with crowds holding signs that said of the contraception mandate, “I’ll have nun of it.”

Sister Loraine McGuire with Little Sisters of the Poor speaks to the media after Zubik v. Burwell, an appeal brought by Christian groups demanding full exemption from the requirement to provide insurance covering contraception under the Affordable Care Act, was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on March 23, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Joshua Roberts *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-SCOTUS-CONTRACEPTION, originally transmitted on March 23, 2016.

Sister Loraine McGuire with Little Sisters of the Poor speaks to the media after Zubik v. Burwell, an appeal brought by Christian groups demanding full exemption from the requirement to provide insurance covering contraception under the Affordable Care Act, was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on March 23, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-SCOTUS-CONTRACEPTION, originally transmitted on March 23, 2016.

Some of the other six plaintiffs in the case don’t object to providing all the contraception the Affordable Care Act requires insurers to offer, but just those that could — in their view — induce abortion. Zubick v. Burwell resembles the Hobby Lobby case, in which the Supreme Court in 2014 ruled that a “closely held” for-profit corporation, such as the national craft store chain, does not have to comply with the mandate because it would violate the owners’ rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Sister Veronica Susan of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who traveled from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. to share her views on Zubik v. Burwell, which the Supreme Court heard on March 23, 2016. Religion News Service photo by Lauren Markoe

Sister Veronica Susan of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who traveled from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. to share her views on Zubik v. Burwell, which the Supreme Court heard on March 23, 2016. Religion News Service photo by Lauren Markoe

The nuns object not just to the mandate, but the way in which the government would exempt them from it: by having them sign a form or inform their insurer that it violates their religious beliefs. That act could trigger a process that gives the responsibility to cover birth control to a third party. Sister Veronica Susan, a Little Sister who came from Philadelphia to Washington to explain her views on the mandate, said waiving out of it still makes the sisters complicit.

“It’s really not our faith to do such a thing,” she said. “When something is waived, you are consenting. For us, we can’t just sign anything off. We have to be who we are, or we are not really authentic.”

Asked the same question — why it should be a burden for religious nonprofits to gain an accommodation by indicating that they don’t want to comply with the mandate — Stone posed another question: “Why should we have to accommodate for what we believe?” she asked. “Why should we need an accommodation for our freedom?”


RELATED STORY: Religious groups try to sway Supreme Court in birth control case


But those who chanted and danced in front of the court in favor of the contraception mandate said it was women’s rights the court could trample. Access to birth control, they said, is the right to control one’s health and life, and the court shouldn’t permit women’s employers — no matter their religious beliefs — to take those rights away.

“As a Catholic I believe that everyone should have access to reproductive health care,” Breslin said. “I believe it is part of social justice.”

How does she feel that her church takes a different stand on the issue?

“We talk about the church in two different ways,” she said. “There’s the hierarchy and then there’s the church — the body of all of us. With 99 percent of Catholic women using birth control, I know that they’re with me.”

The justices may decide Zubik v. Burwell in the late spring or early summer.

(Lauren Markoe is a national reporter for RNS)

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  • G Key

    “When something is waived, you are consenting.” Baloney. Little Sisters are trying (and lying) to control government responses & limit the rights of employees by claiming to be involved when they’re not.

    Trying to force government to enforce their beliefs is holey, not holy.

    And trying to subordinate the rights of employees is arrogantly elitist. They may claim their freedoms are being abridged, but the truth is they’re just having to recognize & respect other peoples’ freedom.

  • zachary

    Thank you for sharing two sides. I wish there was more of the interview to have a better understanding of why they believe what they believe. For instance, how much has Stones school influenced her view on the subject since her university sent staff and students to Washington to rally behind the nuns.. Also, as far as I know, Oklahoma Wesleyan University has also filed a lawsuit against ACA regarding the waiver/mandate.

  • zachary

    The logic being used is interesting. Supporters of the nuns feel they are giving women more freedom. Take the following example from Stone’s school. Oklahoma Wesleyan University’s president Everett Piper wrote on 03/21/16, “Today Oklahoma Wesleyan University finds itself before the Supreme Court of the United States, forced to defend its female employees who, because of their religious convictions, simply want the freedom to choose healthcare coverage that is consistent with their faith and personal lifestyle. They want to exercise their choice to not buy a product or service that includes abortion inducing drugs.”

    Both sides are arguing that they are lifting up women’s rights. That being said, in the case of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, it would seem the university is falsely assuming that none of their female employees would want such coverage. What happens when a female employee wants the coverage? It would seem the choice has been removed.

  • yoh

    Gotta say, I can’t think of a single rational purpose behind opposing contraception. The fact that the view is entirely religious shows really how objectively stup1d it is.

    The arguments by the nuns and school are junk. They are trying to claim that letting employees chose their own coverage outside of the purview of the employers is any way related to providing something for them. Its a bad faith argument which is entirely motivated as a collareral attack on the ACA.

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  • Shelly M

    Your comments indicate our lack of knowledge on the nuns faith. They believe that God produces new life. Man does not have the right to kill the life that God created. Some of the so-called “contraception drugs” kill a life after conception, and are abortion drugs. This action goes against God, and is considered murder in the eyes of these nuns. Sometimes they are too sweet to the news reporters, and don’t say this clearly for people like you who do not understand their issue with the Government HHS Mandate.

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  • MarkE

    So, in this argument, the nuns (and their supporters) will not and cannot be satisfied until all contraceptive drugs are banned from use. Makes me wonder where all these religious freedom advocates were in the 60’s and 70’s, when pacifist Christians and others protested that their tax dollars (which they were required to pay under penalty of federal law) were being used for nuclear weapons and other machines of war which violated their “deeply-held religious beliefs.” Didn’t see or hear Falwell, Robertson, Focus on the Family or the RC bishops weighing in back then!

  • yoh

    Their faith is not license to dictate what others must do. Religious freedom is not an excuse for coercion. Again, this is only an issue because of religious belief as there is no sane or rational cause for opposing contraception.

    The reality of your position is that contraception is opposed because of entirely arbitrary reasons relating to religion. You must invoke “God hates this” because you have nothing else. You defer to authority on the subject without reason and claim its moral. Of course your view is hardly universal to all religious belief.

    The issue is you want to use religious belief as an excuse to coerce adherence to your narrow sectarian views. That is both immoral and counter to our nation’s guarantee of religious freedom.

    Why do I have to follow your God? Why does your religious belief take precedent over mine?