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.

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