NYT: Nuns, birth control and Obamacare

Believe it or not, I come not to bury the Great Gray Lady but to praise her.

Before pushing the button that dropped the famed crystal ball in New York City’s Times Square to ring in 2014, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued an eleventh-hour ruling that blocked a requirement of the nation’s new health-care law.

As The New York Times reports:

WASHINGTON — In temporarily blocking enforcement of the part of President Obama’s health care law that requires many employers to provide health insurance coverage for birth control or face penalties, Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Tuesday opened a second front in Supreme Court challenges to the provision.

The initial front opened in November, when the justices agreed to hear a pair of cases from for-profit companies challenging that provision. Now Justice Sotomayor has ordered the Obama administration to file a brief by Friday morning responding to a different kind of challenge, this one from groups affiliated with religious organizations.

In the meantime, she issued a temporary injunction barring the administration from enforcing the birth control requirement against an order of Colorado nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and related groups.

The Times piece is labeled “News Analysis,” but — surprise, surprise — it impressed me as solid, down-the-middle journalism that sheds light on complicated issues. I liked it, in other words.

For the casual observer, the story does a nice job of putting Sotomayor’s ruling into context:

To understand the context of Justice Sotomayor’s decision, it helps to look at the details of the Affordable Care Act. The law distinguishes among three kinds of organizations: religious employers, for-profit corporations and nonprofit groups affiliated with religious organizations but not owned or controlled by them.

Under the law, religious employers like churches are exempt from the contraceptive requirement. For-profit corporations fall on the other end of the spectrum and are not exempt. Nonprofit groups affiliated with, but not owned or controlled by religious organizations, like the Little Sisters of the Poor, fall in the middle. Although such groups need not provide coverage themselves, they must sign a certification allowing insurance companies to do so.

The dispute in the new case is whether that certification itself amounts to conduct that violates the groups’ religious faith.

That kind of background is extremely helpful in understanding this week’s news development.

Kudos, New York Times.

About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • http://outofthedepths.blogspot.com/ steve

    It is nice to have good news that things are being done right once in a while. This article probably will not draw many comments since there is little to beef about. But that is OK.

  • Julia B

    This article is better, in my opinion. I couldn’t figure out why the Little Sisters of the Poor weren’t considered a religious organization and the NYT didn’t even get at any of that. The NBC article does get into that. Looks like it is not just parishes/churches with ordained pastors that are exempt. On the other hand, maybe individual parishes/churches don’t have to fill out any paper work, but church “affiliated” organizations do. Is that the issue? Neither article explains that. http://www.nbcnews.com/health/us-answer-nun-birth-control-suit-2D11848546

  • tmatt

    This article gets the three-tiered struggle that is going on.

    Churches and church-operated ministries? OK.

    Non-profit ministries that are clearly religious yet deal with the public (in eyes of the White House)? Not OK.

    For profits (in eyes of the White House)? Not OK

    The battle is over No. 2 and the White House rejection of Sotomayor’s action is crucial. She hinted at acceptance of a kind of “church/denomination LINKED” ministry equation.

    But why is a CHURCH exempt and a clearly religious MINISTRY not exempt? That’s the point where journalists are struggling to cover the two sides of the argument. In fact, I’ve never seen a story that really presents why THE WHITE HOUSE is arguing what it is arguing.

  • John Pack Lambert

    The discrimination against people who try to make a living was not written into the Afordable Care Act, as the NYT claims. It was put inot place by the Obama Administration. It was never considered, let alone passed by congress. By claiming otherwise the NYT is being disingenuous at best, lying at worst.
    This is not a good article. It is a one-sided article written to advance the “congress maybe wanted to discriminate against people who make money” narrative. The different treatment of for-profit businesses is a myth dreamed up by Seballius and the Obama administration, it was never approved by congress.


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