Around New England

Massachusetts Pro-Life Organization’s Brief Cited in Little Sisters of the Poor U.S. Supreme Court Decision

July 8, 2020

A high-profile U.S. Supreme Court decision concerning religious freedom and health insurance today has a Massachusetts connection.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 on Wednesday that a Roman Catholic religious congregation called the Little Sisters of the Poor does not have to provide health insurance coverage for artificial contraception for lay employees at nursing homes the nuns run.

Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the majority opinion for the court, cited and briefly quoted from a friend-of-the-court brief sponsored by the Pro-Life Legal Defense Fund, which is headquartered in Newton. The brief represents residents of Little Sisters nursing homes and families of residents.

Referring to the sisters, Thomas wrote:  “They feel called by their faith to care for their elderly residents regardless of ‘faith, finances, or frailty.’ ”

The brief was prepared by counsel of record Dwight Duncan, a professor of law at the University of Massachusetts Law School in Dartmouth, and Colbe Mazzarella, a lawyer and board member of the Pro-Life Legal Defense Fund.

The brief quotes from a dozen people who have had dealings with nursing homes run by the Little Sisters, either as residents or relatives of residents. It argues that the Little Sisters offer extraordinary care to their residents, and that they are motivated to do so by their religious faith. It also maintains that the Little Sisters would close their nursing homes rather than violate their consciences by paying for contraception.

Some government officials have argued that female employees have a right to contraception coverage through employer-provider health plans mandated by Obamacare, but the nuns have argued that forcing them to pay for contraception would violate their religious freedom. President Donald Trump’s administration supported the Little Sisters in the latest court case, which pit government officials in certain states against the nuns.

The U.S. Supreme Court case, called Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania et alia, was decided Wednesday, July 8, 2020.