Lawyers for the Little Sisters of the Poor said it’s time to provide the sisters relief.

Matt Hadro/CNA/EWTN News

WASHINGTON — Lawyers for the Little Sisters of the Poor said it’s time for the Trump administration to admit that the Obama-era contraception mandate is unconstitutional and provide the sisters relief.

“I think we’re in a moment of truth and reconciliation here,” Becket Executive Director Montse Alvarado told CNA. Becket has represented for-profit and nonprofit plaintiffs in cases against the HHS mandate, winning at the Supreme Court in 2014 in the Hobby Lobby case.

“The government’s lawyers need to admit that what they were doing is illegal. We need them to honestly admit,” Alvarado said, “that they were doing something unconstitutional.” The Department of Health and Human Services also needs to issue a “new rule” providing relief from the mandate from all parties that conscientiously object to it, she said, and the plaintiffs need to “win their cases” in court.

It has now been nearly five months since the May 4 Rose Garden press conference in which President Donald Trump told the Little Sisters of Poor: “Your long ordeal will soon be over.”

The sisters had filed a lawsuit in late 2013 over the federal contraception mandate, which was a regulation from the Obama administration requiring employers to fund coverage of contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-causing drugs in their employee health plans.

Lawsuits were filed against the mandate by hundreds of employers who objected to it. Among the plaintiffs was EWTN Global Catholic Network. CNA is part of the EWTN family, as is the National Catholic Register. Following the wave of legal challenges, the Obama administration released subsequent revisions to the mandate. But the Little Sisters and many other employers said the revised rules still required their complicity in providing such coverage, which violates their religious and moral standards. Refusal to comply with the rule would result in heavy — potentially crippling — fines.

On the day of the May 4 press conference — attended by U.S. bishops’ conference president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and members of the Little Sisters of the Poor — President Trump issued an executive order “promoting free speech and religious liberty.” It directed the secretaries of the Treasury, Labor and Health and Human Services Departments to “consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate.”

Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price that day “welcomed” the executive order and promised that “we will be taking action in short order to follow the president’s instruction to safeguard the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans who provide health insurance to their employees.”

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