The Obama administration’s HHS mandate may force the Catholic Little Sisters of the Poor to cease their U.S. operations, according to Sister Constance Carolyn Veit, the religious order’s communications director.
The Little Sisters currently provide group homes and daily care for the elderly poor in 30 U.S. cities.
Sister Constance told The Daily Caller that the Little Sisters may not qualify for a religious exemption from ObamaCare’s requirement that employers provide coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-causing drugs free of charge to female workers.
“We are not exempt from the [ObamaCare] mandate because we neither serve nor employ a predominantly Catholic population,” Constance said. ”We hire employees and serve/house the elderly regardless of race and religion, so that makes us ineligible for the exemption being granted churches.”
Catholic teaching forbids contraception, sterilization, and abortion, but President Obama’s health-care overhaul law requires employers to offer services that cause all three to their employees without a co-pay.
Failure to comply will result in fines of $100 a day per employee — even for religious orders like the Little Sisters whose members have taken vows of poverty.
“[I]t could be a serious threat to our mission in the U.S.,” said Sister Constance, “because we would never be able to afford to pay the fines involved. We have difficulty making ends meet just on a regular basis; we have no extra funding that would cover these fines.”
The sole compromise the Obama administration offered to religious-based groups that oppose the mandate was to give them an extra year to comply. That extension expires at the end of 2013, but the sisters have only a few weeks left to try to persuade the administration to grant them an exemption beyond that.
“We just cannot not say what will happen,” Sister Constance told The Daily Caller. “We are continuing to pray that our backs will not be up against the wall in 2014. If we are forced to make a decision, we will seek concrete direction from the U.S. bishops.”
The Little Sisters have left countries over issues of religious freedom before.
“[A]s Little Sisters of the Poor, we are not strangers to religious intolerance,” Sister Constance wrote in a June 2012 essay for the Tablet, a Brooklyn-based Catholic newspaper. “Our foundress was born at the height of the French Revolution and established our congregation in its aftermath.”
“Our sisters have been forced to leave numerous countries, including China, Myanmar and Hungary, because of religious intolerance,” she wrote. “We pray that the United States will not be added to this list.”
In addition to the 300 religious Little Sisters in the U.S., each of their group homes employ about 100 people, many of whom get their healthcare through the Little Sisters.
The cost of the fines would be in the millions of dollars each year.
Sister Constance said although their current objections to the HHS mandate have to do with reproductive issues, they are concerned that more mandates may be coming that will have a greater impact on their mission.
“What we fear is that, if the federal government succeeds in this case, there are other areas where they could exert pressure or enact measures that could endanger our apostolate — particularly in end-of-life care and in the possible rationing of care to the elderly as a cost-saving measure,” she said.
Sister Constance said their battle with the Obama administration has worried many residents of their nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. They wonder if the Little Sisters will be there to take care of them in years to come.
“We wish to avoid causing them any further anxiety,” said Sister Constance. “They are always our first concern, our employees as well.”