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Nuns ask Supreme Court to stop New York’s abortion healthcare mandate

A group of nuns and other religious organisations in New York are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case against a 2017 state mandate requiring employers to cover abortions in their employee healthcare plans. Led by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, a coalition of religious organizations filed an appeal Friday asking the nation’s high court to hear the case of Diocese of Albany v. Lacewell.


The plaintiffs believe that New York’s abortion mandate violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because “it imposes severe burdens on their religious exercise,” including a steadfast opposition to abortion.

“In a 2017 regulation, the New York State Department of Financial Services mandated that employers fund abortions through their employee health insurance plans,” the petition to the Supreme Court explained.“This regulatory command exempts religious entities whose ‘purpose’ is to inculcate religious values and who ‘employ’ and ‘serve’ primarily coreligionists. But religious organisations must cover abortions if they have a broader religious mission or if they employ or serve people regardless of their faith.” 

For example, Catholic Charities, which serves the poor regardless of if they are Catholic, is required to fund abortions through its employee health insurance plan despite its connection to the Catholic Church, which is well-known for its opposition to abortion. 

Even with the limited exemptions provided to certain religious employers, the regulation mandates that “group and blanket insurance policies that provide hospital, surgical, or medical expense coverage […] shall not exclude coverage for medically necessary abortions.” Medically necessary abortions are not explicitly defined in the regulation, but the petition contends that the phrase refers to “abortions in cases of rape, incest, or fetal malformation.”

The petitioners initially sought relief from the abortion mandate in state court, but the state judicial system upheld the regulation. They are now seeking relief from the Supreme Court. The high court consists of six Republican-appointed justices and three justices appointed by Democratic presidents.


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