Bioethics News

Big fallout from Little Sisters case

Commentators have clashed over the US Supreme Court’s decision not rule on a case involving the forced provision of contraceptives by Catholic order Little Sisters of the Poor.

On May 16 SCOTUS announced, in a unanimous decision, that it would not decide the case on its merits but instead sent the case back down to the lower courts for opposing parties to work out a compromise. The court said that in the course of litigation both parties had clarified their position and that they should be able to “arrive at an approach”.

Supporters of the plaintiffs saw the decision as a victory.

Bill McGurn of the Wall Street Journal suggested that the case represented a direct attack on religious groups in society:

“In short, the Obama administration’s goal was not just getting contraceptives to women. It was also to do so in a way designed to force religious groups such as the Little Sisters to cry “uncle.””

But advocates of the government’s contraceptive mandate stridently criticised the decision. New York Times journalist Linda Greenhouse exhorted the federal government to continue to the fight against the plaintiffs: 

“…it’s time for the administration and its supporters to recapture the narrative and make clear to a confused public that this is not a case about nuns. It’s a case about women who should not, by reason of their particular employment, have to forfeit the right to comprehensive health care that the law makes available to other women in the work force. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but an urgent task.”

Writing in Harvard’s Petrie-Flom Center blog, Greg Lipper – Senior Litigation Counsel Americans United for the Separation of Church and State – said that “the one-track focus on the Little Sisters overlooks the tens of thousands of women affected by these cases and who risk losing the contraceptive coverage to which they’re entitled by law.” 

This article is published by Xavier Symons and BioEdge under a Creative Commons licence.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.