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DEBRA J. SAUNDERS: Will Biden leave Little Sisters free to choose?

President Joe Biden likes to talk about unity and his intent to rise above partisan rancor to heal the divisions that led a pro-Trump mob to swarm the Capitol on Jan. 6. Given his history of cutting deals with Republicans, I believe he wants to work across the aisle.

But a hail-fellow-well-met demeanor can’t paper over his party’s intolerance and readiness to use government as a club to beat dissenters into submission. Choice? That’s not for Little Sisters of the Poor — or at least it wasn’t last year as Biden was the presumptive Democratic nominee and the Supreme Court ruled in their favor.

Let me back up and lay the scene. The Little Sisters of the Poor is an organization of Catholic nuns who want, as their mission statement explains, to provide for “the neediest elderly of every race and religion a home where they will be welcomed as Christ.”

Then they ran into Obama administration regulations that required most employers to include in their employee health care plans free birth control. The Little Sisters objected because they believe “deliberately avoiding reproduction through medical means is immoral.”

You would think the federal government would have better things to do than pick on nuns caring for old people. Indeed, Congress passed no legislation with this mandate, and Barack Obama never signed such a law. His Affordable Care Act, however, mandated that essential benefits be included in most employer-provided health care plans, and then nameless bureaucrats did the rest.

In 2012, Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services declared that contraception was essential preventive care and hence was exempt from co-payments. Thus began a series of legal battles in which the Little Sisters generally prevailed against the federal machine because they did not back down.

In July, the Little Sisters won one of many cases against the group by a 7-2 margin. Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, who were appointed by Democratic presidents, concurred with the majority. Biden’s response? It befitted the response of a Democratic presidential nominee.

The former vice president released a statement in which he said, “Health care is a right that should not be dependent on race, gender, income or ZIP code. Yet as a result of today’s decision, countless women are at risk of losing access to affordable, preventive care.”

Note: Women who work for the charity would not lose access to health care. They would still be able to go to a clinic or see a doctor for contraception. They would just have to pay for it. Both employees and employers would be free to choose.

Biden also nominated as his secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, who sued the care-giving nuns to force them to obey the Obamacare mandate.

At Thursday’s daily briefing, I asked press secretary Jen Psaki if Biden still planned to go after the religious and moral objection exemptions given his stated goal of bringing the country together.

Her answer: “I haven’t discussed that particular issue with him. I’m happy to circle back with you, but I don’t — there’s not a change in his position from what he said earlier this summer.”

I don’t agree with the Little Sisters of the Poor, but a government that would work to bring these compassionate nuns to heel is a government that cares more about conformity than people. Where’s the tolerance? There is no tolerance for conservative Christians.

And if Biden pursues this track, he will further divide America.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391.

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