by Loraine Maguire
When I first answered God’s call to join the Little Sisters of the Poor and vow myself to Him and to the care of the elderly, I never dreamed of the happiness I would experience in serving, living with and caring for the aging poor until God calls them to Himself. I also never thought one day, I would be walking up the white marble steps of the Supreme Court to attend a legal proceeding in which the high court will decide whether the government can force my order to help offer health care services that violate my Catholic faith and that are already available through existing government exchanges.
For the past two years, since the time we felt we had no choice but to engage in this legal process, I have been saddened to see some of the anger and misinformation generated about our case. One of the most misunderstood aspects has arisen from early statements made by the government about how all it was asking was that we sign a form saying we had a religious objection to its mandated services so it could provide these services independent of our health care plan.
This is untrue. The government already knows we object. In fact, this is not our first appeal for protection from the court. In December 2013, we first asked to be protected from the fines that would accrue against us unless we provided the objectionable services. At the time, Justice Sonia Sotomayor stopped the fines and the government received a letter from us stating our objection. Even before then, since the government announced it had put this regulation into effect, we registered our objection in writing, citing our concerns.
Why would the government need us to provide these services? Everyone knows the government can provide free services to anyone it wishes without our signing a form. It has always been clear to us that rather than being an “opt out,” the form is an opt-in. It gives the government permission to use our plan to deliver services such as ella, the week-after pill. The form even says our signature will legally alter our contract with our insurance provider.
One of the most puzzling aspects of the case is that the government, at the same time it has been trying to force us to sign this form and provide these services, has exempted close to 100 million Americans from having to comply with this mandate. It has exempted its own military family plan, its own insurance for the disabled as well as large private corporations such as Pepsi. All these exemptions were issued for convenience or commercial reasons, but when we have asked to be exempted for religious reasons, we have been denied the same privilege.
As I look around the home where I live in Baltimore, I see those who are truly affected by this unnecessary legal proceeding: the elderly poor. Most of the people who live in my residence have nowhere else to go. The 13,000 elderly we take care of around the world come to us in search of a home and of good medical care. They seek solace and companionship when they have none. And we gladly commit to live with them until they complete their earthly journey. We tell them that once they come to our home, we belong to them and they belong to us because we are family.
My heart is filled with grief at the worry and suffering this has caused our elderly residents. I tell them that whatever happens, God will take care of all of us as He has since the founding of our order 175 years ago. As I walk up the Supreme Court steps on this coming Holy Wednesday, I will be reflecting on the words our foundress, St. Jeanne Jugan: “God will help us: the work is His.” I will also be praying for our elderly residents. Finally, I will be praying that our laws continue to protect religious liberty, not only for my order but for all Americans.
Mother Loraine Maguire is the Mother Provincial for the Little Sisters of the Poor. The Little Sisters are represented in court by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
SOURCE: USA Today