Press Release

Nuns battle New York abortion mandate in court State officials in court for trying to force religious groups to pay for abortions

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Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

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WASHINGTON – A diverse coalition of religious groups was at the New York Court of Appeals yesterday to continue their fight against the state’s abortion mandate. In Diocese of Albany v. Harris, a group of Anglican and Catholic nuns, Catholic dioceses, Christian churches, and faith-based social ministries sued New York after it mandated that they cover abortion in their employee health insurance plans in violation of their religious beliefs. After state courts left the mandate in place, Becket, Jones Day and Tobin and Dempf, LLP, asked the Supreme Court to step in. In 2021, the Justices reversed the lower courts’ rulings and told them to reconsider the case. 

When the New York State Department of Financial Services initially proposed the abortion mandate, it promised to exempt employers with religious objections. However, after facing pressure from abortion activists, New York radically narrowed the exemption to cover only religious groups that both primarily teach religion and primarily serve and hire those who share their faith. This exception does not apply to most religious ministries that seek to serve all people, regardless of faith. For example, the exemption doesn’t extend to the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm and their Teresian Nursing Home because they serve the elderly and dying regardless of religious affiliation. 

“Forcing nuns to bankroll abortions because they believe in serving all people is unacceptable,” said Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket. “The court should toss this mandate into the dustbin of history and allow these religious groups to focus on what they do best: caring for those in need.” 

After New York courts refused to stop the mandate, the religious groups asked the Supreme Court to take their case. In 2021, the Court reversed the unfavorable rulings from New York state courts and told them to reconsider the case in light of Becket’s landmark victory in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. The case is now back before the New York Court of Appeals. Noel J. Francisco, former U.S. Solicitor General and partner-in-charge at Jones Day’s Washington office, argued on behalf of the religious groups at the hearing yesterday. 

Religious groups in New York should not be required to provide insurance coverage that violates their deeply held religious beliefs,” said Noel J. Francisco, partner-in-charge of Jones Day’s Washington office. “We asked the court to follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s guidance, protect religious freedom, and make clear that the mandate cannot be applied to this diverse group of religious organizations.” 

A decision is expected later this year.  

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Ryan Colby atmedia@becketlaw.orgor 202-349-7219.