Obamacare case: RNS reports both sides, though little on those in between

Yaayyy! Someone remembered that there are two sides (at least) to a controversy!

And it's not Normal, Moderate Americans vs. Those Nuts on the Right!

The Religion News Service does the right thing in a newsfeature about "two 20-something Christians, both motivated by faith," who were found in counter-demonstrations outside the U.S. Supreme Court.

At issue is that long-smoldering battle over Obamacare: whether it can require religious groups to provide contraceptives that they believe will cause abortions and kill embryonic humans. The Little Sisters of the Poor, along with six other plaintiffs, have taken the feds to court over the matter. The Supreme Court is expected to rule by summer or earlier.

For such a story, many mainstream media would have tried a blend of what tmatt calls the Frame Game and the Two Armies approach. On the liberal side, they'd single out a young, stylish, articulate woman. Her conservative opposition would likely be a middle-aged, overweight male who used bad grammar.

Instead of such cheap devices, the RNS article chooses two young female college students -- both of them even named Katie -- each spelling out sincere beliefs. It shows respect for both, allowing us readers to make up our own minds.

Here is how we are introduced to Katie Stone and Katie Breslin:

Stone, 20, a freshman at Oklahoma Wesleyan University, said she must stand with the Little Sisters of the Poor, one of seven plaintiffs suing the Obama administration in the case. "They are being told that they have to provide life-ending drugs and life-ending processes that we don’t even believe in," she said. "That doesn’t seem like religious freedom at all, because we’re being told to support something that we don’t believe in."
Breslin, 24, who moved to Washington, D.C., from her native Pennsylvania to attend Trinity Washington University, a Catholic women’s college, said the federal government has offered sufficient accommodations for the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious groups that don’t want to comply with the mandate. The wrong ruling in the case would threaten the rights of women to the contraceptives that are such a key part of their health care, she said.
"My faith, my Catholicism, has brought me to my pro-choice activism. I can’t see one without the other," said Breslin, who chairs the Women’s Information Network, a forum of young Democratic women who support abortion rights. "I believe each person has the right to make decisions based on their consciences. My conscience and my decision to use birth control are based on my faith."

I also like how RNS spells out Breslin's Catholic affiliation, then summarizes the tension between the teachings of the Church and practices of the laity:

The Roman Catholic Church in which Breslin was raised rejects all forms of artificial birth control, though as many Catholic as non-Catholic American women — upward of 98 percent of those of childbearing age — will use it within their lifetimes. The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic order that cares for the elderly, is the face of Zubik v. Burwell, and many of the Little Sisters gathered outside the court to cheer with crowds holding signs that said of the contraception mandate, "I’ll have nun of it."

Would have been nice to give the source for that 98 percent figure, though.

RNS steps away from the picket lines enough to talk to one of the Little Sisters of the Poor. It's a worthwhile little trip, because the Sisters have a distinct objection to Obama's healthcare mandate:

The nuns object not just to the mandate, but the way in which the government would exempt them from it: by having them sign a form or inform their insurer that it violates their religious beliefs. That act could trigger a process that gives the responsibility to cover birth control to a third party. Sister Veronica Susan, a Little Sister who came from Philadelphia to Washington to explain her views on the mandate, said waiving out of it still makes the sisters complicit.
"It’s really not our faith to do such a thing," she said. "When something is waived, you are consenting. For us, we can’t just sign anything off. We have to be who we are, or we are not really authentic."

That is indeed a fine-tuned ethic that deserved space. I'm glad RNS gave it some.

I have only a couple issues with this otherwise fine article. One is the lack of space for opinions in the middle. Between all contraceptives and no contraceptives, there is of course a broad range of viewpoints.

RNS acknowledges this: "Some of the other six plaintiffs in the case don’t object to providing all the contraception the Affordable Care Act requires insurers to offer, but just those that could -- in their view -- induce abortion." The article also cites the so-called Hobby Lobby case, in which the store chain's owners objected only to measures that caused abortions. But in the current case, RNS doesn't quote any of those other six plaintiffs. Doesn't even name them.

Still another is -- and this is admittedly tricky -- the different viewpoints of the schools that the two young demonstrators attend. Neither website addresses the issue directly. However, the student handbook of Oklahoma Wesleyan, Katie Stone's school, prohibits "sleeping with or having sexual intercourse with a person other than one’s lawful spouse." That pretty much obviates the reason most students would want birth control.

Trinity is even more general than that. The most direct reference I saw in the web material was a health advisory that said oral contraceptives can cause migraines. But my GetReligion colleague Julie Duin says it's a pretty standard, secularized liberal arts school, true to this 2008 article. Also, in 2014, university president Patricia McGuire told America magazine that the student body was only about 15 percent Catholic.

The difference? Well, Katie Stone, based on her school's culture, wants autonomy for individual organizations in healthcare provided under their auspices. Katie Breslin, based on her school's culture, says that healthcare is a universal right. The RNS article hints at this difference, but doesn't really bring it out.

I found an irony in a column by Patricia A. McGuire, Trinity's president, after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. She hoped the next pope would send "more progressive signals on such topics as respect for religious women" and favor "welcoming women into more Church roles." Three years after that column, one of her students was arguing for federal power over a women's religious order.

At least McGuire's column also called for "allowing the expression of differences of opinion without fear." RNS does the same in this article. Kudos.

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