In May 2016, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned lower court rulings against the Little Sisters, ordered the government not to impose $70 million in fines against the Little Sisters, and said the lower courts should provide the government an opportunity “to arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates the petitioners' religious beliefs.”
On November 7, 2018 the federal government did what it should have done years ago: it admitted that it was unlawful to penalize the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious groups for following their faith. The government issued a new rule with an exemption that protects religious ministries. The rule complies with the Supreme Court 2016 ruling and a Presidential Executive Order. It also confirms what Becket has argued all along—that the government has many ways to provide services to women who want them, as well as protect the Little Sisters.
Despite the new rule and a Supreme Court victory, the Little Sisters’ fight is not over. Shortly after the new rule was issued, several states, including California and Pennsylvania, sued the federal government to take away the Little Sisters’ religious exemption. These states admit they have many programs to provide contraceptives to women who want them, and several of the states either have no contraceptive coverage requirement at all or provide broad religious exemptions, just like the new rule. Yet the states claim that non-profits, including the Little Sisters, must be forced to comply with the federal mandate or pay tens of millions of dollars of government fines.
In November 2017, Becket intervened on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor in California and Pennsylvania. Now, there are 17 states in both lawsuits against the Little Sisters. Instead of piling on in an attempt to bully the Little Sisters, the state governments should admit that there are many ways to deliver these services without nuns. When that happens, the Little Sisters will finally be free to do what they do best: return to serving the elderly poor in peace.