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'Forcing Nuns to Bankroll Abortions': NY Outrage Case Is Back in Court

Photo Courtesy: Becket Law
Photo Courtesy: Becket Law

A group of New York nuns stepped into federal court Wednesday to protect the right to teach and serve in their communities without being forced to fund abortions.

The Sisterhood of Saint Mary along with a diverse coalition of Anglican and Catholic nuns, Catholic dioceses, Christian churches, and faith-based social ministries sued New York after it mandated that they cover abortion in their employee health insurance plans in violation of their religious beliefs.

According to Becket Law, a nonprofit legal group, the New York State Department of Financial Services initially proposed the abortion mandate in 2017 but promised to exempt employers with religious exemptions.

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However, after facing pressure from abortion activists, New York narrowed the exemption to cover only religious groups that both primarily teach religion and primarily serve and hire those who share their faith.

That meant that many faith-based organizations, like the Sisterhood of Saint Mary, would still be forced to violate their religious convictions about the sanctity of life. 

"Forcing nuns to bankroll abortions because they believe in serving all people is unacceptable," said Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket. "The court should toss this mandate into the dustbin of history and allow these religious groups to focus on what they do best: caring for those in need." 

Becket along with Jones Day and Tobin and Dempf, LLP, asked the Supreme Court to intervene.

In 2021, the Court reversed unfavorable rulings by New York state courts and told them to reconsider the case in light of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a case in which the high court ruled that Philadelphia was wrong to reject Catholic Social Services because the group said it wouldn't violate its religious beliefs and place children with same-sex couples.

Becket along with Noel J. Francisco, former U.S. Solicitor General and partner-in-charge at Jones Day's Washington office, argued on behalf of the religious groups before the New York Court of Appeals Wednesday. 

"Religious groups in New York should not be required to provide insurance coverage that violates their deeply held religious beliefs," said Francisco.

"We asked the court to follow the U.S. Supreme Court's guidance, protect religious freedom, and make clear that the mandate cannot be applied to this diverse group of religious organizations," he added. 

A decision is expected later this year.

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