The order is asking to be exempt from US government regulations obliging them to provide birth control

The Little Sisters of the Poor will be fined $70 million every year if they lose their Supreme Court case on birth control, according to their communications director.

Sister Constance Veit told Fox News: “”The fines that we face add up to about $70 million a year across our 27 US homes, so it’s pretty frightening.”

The Little Sisters of the Poor, an order who care for the elderly, have asked to be exempt from government regulations which oblige them to provide birth control. The Supreme Court began to hear the case, called Zubik vs Burwell, yesterday in Washington DC.

The nuns said it would infringe their religious freedom and that other bodies, such as Pepsi, have been granted exemptions to the Act.

The US government has contested the claim, arguing that birth control provision is an essential part of healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

The Little Sisters, whose houses serve over 13,000 of the elderly and the poor in 31 countries, are the most prominent of several plaintiffs asking to be exempt. Others are Priests for Life, the dioceses of Pittsburgh and Erie, Pennsylvania, and the Archdiocese of Washington.

Although churches and religious orders are fully exempt from the requirement, institutions such as hospitals and charitable providers are not. They do not have to directly provide contraception, but they must arrange to reimburse their insurer for doing so. The Little Sisters and the other plaintiffs say this would infringe their consciences.

At a demonstration outside the court yesterday, Sister Maria Grace, a member of the order, said: “Basically, it all boils down to the fact that we just want to continue serving, as we have for 175 years, according to our religious beliefs. That’s all we’re asking.”

The Little Sisters won a temporary reprieve from the Supreme Court in 2014. Some observers have predicted that the court’s vote will split 4-4 this time, which would uphold previous rulings in favour of the government, but would not set a national precedent.

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Dec 9 2016 cover