AP's coverage of Obamacare and sisters' court case: It's a tall 'order'


Bishops and Hobby Lobby got sneers in mainstream media for fighting Obamacare, but a knot of nuns seems to be drawing more respectful coverage. Even in its flawed story this week, the Associated Press tries to give the sisters a fair hearing.

How successful is the question here.

The story is about the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order that has been in the U.S. since 1868, specializing in care for the elderly. The nuns and their attorneys, from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, were in Denver on Monday, arguing their case in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Most of the Sisters are elderly, but they have younger employees -- and the Obama administration wants the order, like other organizations, to provide contraceptives. As Catholics, of course, the sisters say that would violate their beliefs.

After a few high-profile lawsuits with other groups, the Obama administration has rewritten the regulations to allow exemptions to churches. But the newest rewrite is still a problem, AP says:

The groups don't have to cover such contraceptives, as most insurers must. But they have to tell the government they object on religious grounds in order to get an exemption. They argued Monday that because they must sign away coverage to another party, the exemption makes them complicit in providing contraceptives.
"It is morally problematic" to sign the forms, argued Greg Baylor, lawyer for Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma.

That, in my opinion, is a pretty cursory explanation. Especially after AP said the sisters argue "that the government hasn't gone far enough to ensure they don't have to violate their beliefs." And that "even opting out violates those beliefs." Makes 'em sound like demanding, self-righteous li'l sisters.

You get a clearer picture from 7 News Denver:

The nuns with Little Sisters of the Poor are able to opt out of covering birth control on their employee health plans because they are a religious nonprofit. At issue is a form they must sign to opt out that then allows a third party administrator to supply birth control on the nun's health plan.
"What the government has done, and this is a strange thing to do, is said the only way we'll accept you saying, 'I object,' is if, on the same piece of paper, you modify your plan to give someone authority to give out the drugs on your plan," said the Sisters' attorney Mark Rienzi, with the Becket Fund For Religious Liberty.
He said signing the form makes the nuns complicit in providing birth control which violates their religious beliefs. 

For some reason, AP didn't even see the need to name the order, even though the news agency could have found out on the Becket Fund website itself.  There's an even handier bite-size paragraph below a promotional video on YouTube:

The Little Sisters of the Poor are an international Roman Catholic Congregation of women Religious founded in 1839 by St. Jeanne Jugan. They operate homes in 31 countries, where they provide loving care for over 13,000 needy elderly persons.

AP could have dropped that into the story with very little editing. Its omission is a rather glaring error for a report that was carried by so many news outlets around the nation.

So why am I not bashing the article altogether?  Because AP does try to be fair. It quotes a lawyer for Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma, another plaintiff. It also gets a representative for the U.S. Department of Justice to deny that the new rules overburden the Little Sisters.

AP gets points, too, with four paragraphs of background. Those include court cases against Obamacare's birth control mandate and who else was in court in Denver over the mandate. The article also says why the nuns were being pressured when Obama already added a religious exemption:

Churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the birth control requirement, but affiliated institutions that serve the general public are not. That includes charitable organizations, universities and hospitals.

And to my surprise, AP even gets a quote from one of the three appellate judges.

Judge Bobby Baldock asked why the exemption process burdens religious groups when the form essentially tells the government, "You can go pound sand because we don't condone it, we don't agree with it."
Baldock seemed perplexed about why the government needs any form at all from religious objectors.
"You already know that the (nuns) raised their hands and said, 'We're not going to do this,' " Baldock said.

Sounds like we know how at least one of the judges will vote.

 Photo: The Little Sisters of the Poor outside the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals before oral argument on December 8, 2014. Far Left: Larry Hansen of Locklord, LLP and Daniel Blomberg of the Becket Fund; Far right: William Mumma, president of the Becket Fund. Credit: The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty


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