Pope Francis made an unscheduled visit to a convent of the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order that is suing the Obama administration over its birth control rules on employers.
The pontiff stopped by the D.C. convent Wednesday night unannounced after canonizing Junipero Serra, a Spanish missionary credited with bringing Catholicism to California in the 18th century.
“This is a sign, obviously of support for them [in their court case],” said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, chief of the Holy See press office, according to Vatican Radio.
The Little Sisters object to the “contraception mandate,” an outgrowth of Obamacare that requires employers to insure 20 contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration as part of their health care plans, or else pay hefty fines. Pitched as a boon for women’s health care, the rules quickly spawned controversy, with dozens of religious nonprofits and devout business owners filing suit.
Although Pope Francis has focused on climate change — an issue dear to President Obama — during his U.S. tour, his visit with the Little Sisters made it clear that he would push back at the administration over its birth control mandate.
The Catholic Church teaches that all forms of contraception are immoral. Evangelical groups and others say they are simply opposed to morning-after pills that they equate to abortion.
Family owned for-profits were victorious before the Supreme Court last year, forcing the Department of Health and Human Services to draft an accommodation for them. Those rules, finalized last week, extends to closely held corporations, with the same type of opt-out clause that HHS has offered nonprofits.
Religious nonprofits want a blanket exemption from the mandate, saying they are complicit in sin even when signing a waiver that triggers a process whereby a third party insurer pays for the coverage.
The Little Sisters are among a lone line of nonprofits that have lost in federal appeals court, although the sisters do not have to comply with the mandate while the Supreme Court decides whether to take up the case.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found in favor of religious colleges in the Midwest last week, making it more likely that the Supreme Court will take up the issue in the coming term because the various U.S. federal circuits are split on the matter.
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