True and False Witness on the Abortion-Pill Mandate


The Supreme Court gave a temporary injunction to the Little Sisters of the Poor to protect them from Obamacare’s abortion-pill mandate.  The only one who seems unhappy about it is Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter.

Winters accuses the Little Sisters’ lawyer of “bearing false witness” by saying that Obamacare forces the Sisters to write a “permission slip” for abortion-pills and birth control to be covered.  But Winters is the one who is either bearing false witness or displaying his own incompetence.

littlesisObamacare says that when an entity is in a self-insured plan, like the Little Sisters are, they must file a certification form. But it’s not like other certification forms that the rule requires.  It does not merely express their religious objections. The form also, specifically and additionally, “designates” their “third party administrator” to go get the abortifacient and birth control payments.  As I explained at Mirror of Justice, in a message posted by Prof. Marc DeGirolami:

The final regulation even points out that this added language is legally operative: the designation words themselves are what cause the TPA’s obligation to go get the coverage. Without the designation telling the TPA to go get that coverage, the TPA wouldn’t have any duty to be involved. … So it’s important to observe that for self-insured religious non-profits, there’s a “certification,” but there’s also a “designation”…. The designation is, by definition, an act of contracting and arranging for the coverage.

The government even conceded, in Cardinal Wuerl’s lawsuit, that “in the self-insured case, technically, the contraceptive coverage is part of the plan.” It’s not separate.

So Winters is simply wrong about what the rule requires. He is content to buy the Obama administration’s false and minimalistic description about what the “certification” does, ignoring that for self-insured plans it also has a “designation” that arranges for and contracts for the coverage as part of the plan itself.  And Winters gives Obamacare deference even over the Little Sisters of the Poor and their (likewise highly sophisticated) co-plaintiff the Christian Brothers insurance group.

Winters additionally attacks the Sisters’ attorney for “determin[ing]sinfulness” when the attorney said it would be a sin for the Sisters to file the coverage designation. But the Sisters’ attorney didn’t say it: the Sisters said it themselves.  They declared that the mandate rule “would force us to disobey Catholic teachings.” They said in their court complaint that complying with the “accommodation” would be “immoral and sinful.”  Mother Loraine Marie Claire Maguire of the Little Sisters personally signed a court statement saying “I declare under the penalty of perjury” that for the Little Sisters to participate in the accommodation would violate their religious beliefs. Period.

Winters is essentially accusing the Little Sisters of perjury. It is outrageous for him to suggest that the Little Sisters failed to think and pray hard about these statements before they approved them and literally acted as witnesses to their beliefs.

Winters then whines that “The USCCB certainly has not said that complying with the mandate would be a sin.” He apparently believes that no specific action in any American Catholic’s life is a sin unless the USCCB has issued a document saying so. That’s not how Catholicism, or the USCCB, or a well-formed Catholic conscience works. The Little Sisters of the Poor are quite capable of discerning Catholic teaching and concluding what would be sinful for themselves. The USCCB has been unswerving in opposing this Mandate, in no uncertain terms, and despite the cajoling of Winters and other left-wing Catholic pundits who have continually mocked the bishops and told them to back off. They haven’t.

Michael Sean Winters has no standing to tell the Little Sisters of the Poor that they are wrong in believing the mandate to be immoral and sinful for them. He is not the Pope of the Little Sisters’ conscience. He is not the USCCB President of other Catholics’ consciences.  And no one hired Winters to speak about their consciences, which the Sisters actually did when they hired their attorney.  Winters’ lack of attention to basic facts, and his haste to accuse others of sin, suggests that his examination of conscience should be focused inwardly, not at people he considers his opponents.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Matt Bowman is a pro-life, religious liberties and constitutional law attorney in the Washington, DC area. He graduated from Ave Maria School of Law in 2003 and clerked for several federal judges thereafter. The Bowmans are involved in homeschooling and classical Catholic education and are rabid fans of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Matt is a member of the Knights of Columbus and his local parish.

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