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March 1, 2012
The Little Sisters of the Poor are an international Congregation of Catholic women religious serving 13,000 needy elderly persons of all faiths in 31 countries around the world. Thirty of our homes for the aged, accommodating over 2,500 low-income seniors, are located in the United States. In these homes we quietly spend our lives in the humble service of the elderly, accompanying them with love and respect until God calls them to Himself.
Long-term care is considered the most highly regulated segment of health care in America. The Little Sisters of the Poor have always done their best to comply with all the government regulations applicable to our homes. We are not prone to making statements on politics or public policy. But at this moment in our country’s history we cannot refrain from speaking out regarding the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rule for “preventative services,” and the “compromise” announced by President Obama regarding religious liberty.
We Little Sisters of the Poor stand with the Catholic Bishops of the United States, and leaders of many other religious communities, in strongly objecting to this mandate. We believe that it violates the individual and collective religious liberty and freedom of conscience of the Little Sisters serving in this country. To quote Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Surely it violates religious freedom to force religious ministries and citizens to buy health coverage to which they object as a matter of conscience and religious principle.” Even the indirect subsidizing of such benefits, which would still be the case through the President’s “compromise,” is unconscionable to us.
As Little Sisters of the Poor we are not strangers to religious intolerance. Our foundress, Saint Jeanne Jugan, was born in the midst of the French Revolution and established our Congregation in its aftermath. In 1851 the first group of Little Sisters ventured beyond France to begin establishing homes for the elderly in Great Britain, where their selfless charity triumphed over the rampant anti-Catholic sentiments of the time.
In 1868 the first Little Sisters of the Poor to set foot on American soil were amazed at the warm welcome and generosity of the people of this country. For over 140 years Little Sisters have cared for the elderly poor, welcomed the collaboration of volunteers and benefactors from their local communities and employed lay staff and consultants to help in our mission – all without discriminating on the basis of race or religion. Nor have the Little Sisters of the Poor ever faced religious discrimination or persecution in this great nation.
The health insurance offered to employees of the Little Sisters of the Poor has always explicitly excluded sterilization, contraception and abortion from its covered services. This longstanding policy has never been a matter of controversy in our homes. Policy revisions put in place as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act clearly state that to the extent the Act would legally require our insurer to provide a particular benefit, they will do so, “unless providing the benefit would conflict with the doctrine or tenets of the Roman Catholic Church.”
Because the Little Sisters of the Poor cannot in conscience directly provide or collaborate in the provision of services that conflict with Church teaching, we find ourselves in the irreconcilable situation of being forced to either stop serving and employing people of all faiths in our ministry – so that we will fall under the narrow exemption – or to stop providing health care coverage to our employees. Either path threatens to end our service to the elderly in America. The Little Sisters are fervently praying that this issue will be resolved before we are forced to take concrete action in response to this unjust mandate.
Beyond the immediate issues related to sterilization, contraception and abortifacients, we are deeply concerned about the erosion of religious liberty and freedom of conscience which the HHS mandate signals and the impact this could have on our health care ministry. We fear that the successful implementation of this rule could set a precedent for further intrusion of government into health care, with an increasingly broad array of medical treatments and procedures – preventive or otherwise – falling under federal mandates. If the federal government succeeds in enforcing this rule, what is to stop it from rationing health care to seniors or including euthanizing procedures on the list of required “preventive services” as a way of eliminating the costs associated with caring for our aging population? Would health care providers like the Little Sisters of the Poor then be forced to cooperate in such practices?
In 1991 Mother Marie Antoinette de la Trinité, then Superior General of the Little Sisters of the Poor, took a public stand and made the Congregation’s voice heard against just such measures when the European Parliament was debating euthanasia. We now find ourselves at a similar crossroads in our nation’s history. We wish to affirm that the HHS mandate is an unjust and dangerous infringement upon the natural and Constitutional rights of Americans and that the only just solution is to rescind it. The Little Sisters of the Poor call upon Congress and the Executive Branch to reverse this decision as soon as possible and we pledge our prayers and sacrifices for the true good of our beloved country.