Today in Kellerism: New York Times reporters offer contraceptive mandate apologetics (updated)

The Little Sisters of the Poor is an order of Roman Catholic nuns who take care of elderly people, many (if not most) of whom are indigent or nearly so.

As a non-profit, the Little Sisters provide health insurance for their employees, under a so-called "church plan," a special type of insurance for, well, religious organizations. The Christian Brothers, another Roman Catholic order, administers the insurance for the Little Sisters.

Years of back-and-forth charges and counter-charges over a 2011 rule promulgated by the Obama administration Department of Health and Human Services have just about come to an end. The current administration, following the promise made by President Donald J. Trump, is planning to roll back the contraceptive mandate's application to religious groups -- both religious groups (and their branch organizations) and other doctrinally defined schools and non-profit ministries, such as the Little Sisters.

Cue up a dose of Kellerism, the journalistic belief that certain issues have already been decided by American elites and do not need "balanced" coverage. Unsurprisingly, The New York Times, whose onetime editor Bill Keller provided the name for this GetReligion term, is at the head of the class on this story, headlining its piece, "White House Acts to Roll Back Birth-Control Mandate for Religious Employers."

Let's dive in:

WASHINGTON -- Federal officials, following through on a pledge by President Trump, have drafted a rule to roll back a federal requirement that many religious employers provide birth control coverage in health insurance plans.
The mandate for free contraceptive coverage was one of the most hotly contested Obama administration policies adopted under the Affordable Care Act, and it generated scores of lawsuits by employers that had religious objections to it.
On its website, the White House Office of Management and Budget said it is reviewing an “interim final rule” to relax the requirement, a step that would all but ensure a court challenge by women’s rights groups.
Mr. Trump signaled a change in direction on May 4, when he issued an executive order instructing three cabinet departments to consider amended regulations to “address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate.” The order cites a section of the Affordable Care Act that refers specifically to preventive services for women.
Mr. Trump removed any doubt about his intentions when he signed the executive order that day. At a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House, he celebrated the faith of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a 178-year-old religious order that refused to comply with the contraceptive coverage mandate and fought it all the way to the Supreme Court.

Here's journalism problem number one, what I'd call a partial truth.

When the Times says the Trump order "cites a section of the Affordable Care Act that refers specifically to preventive services for women" they forget to mention that the ACA did not specify what those "preventive services for women" were and were not. It was the Obama administration-led HHS that, more than a year after the ACA was signed into law, that included contraceptive coverage, with the narrowest possible religious exemptions.

Call it a journalistic sin of omission, if you will.

Although the Little Sisters battled to something of a draw before the high court, the fact remains that barring a federal rules change, the nuns who help elderly folks live out their last days in some comfort and security could face legal challenges, at best, and massive fines, at worst, all for obeying their conscience. They insisted, backed by their legal teams, that they did not want to cooperate with the government in supporting what Catholic doctrines define as sin.

But mere conscience isn't enough for some, the Times notes:

Democrats in Congress have vowed to fight just as hard to preserve the mandate, saying it has benefited over 50 million women.
Last week, Senator Patty Murray of Washington and 13 other Democratic senators warned Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, to cease efforts that could “undermine access to affordable preventive services, including contraception, for women.”
“Women saved more than $1.4 billion in out-of-pocket costs for birth control in 2013 alone,” the senators said Thursday in a letter to Mr. Mulvaney.

Now, if my math is correct, that $1.4 billion "saved" translates to $28 for each of the "50 million women" cited in the report. If it's truly "over" that number, then the per-person savings drops.

But I digress. That "over 50 million" figure irked at least one GetReligioin reader, who wrote, "'Wait!' I thought. 'Religious employers employ 50 million women in this country?!?' Then I thought, 'Is there no one to do a fact check anymore?' Then I looked -- in vain -- for any kind of comment that pushed back on that claim."

Under the sacred tenets of Kellerism, there's no need to push back. If "Democrats in Congress" say the number exceeds 50 million women, then it must be so.

At the same time, the legal advocate for the Little Sisters gets all of one paragraph -- in paraphrase, no less -- to expound his client's views:

Mark L. Rienzi, a lawyer at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty who represents the Little Sisters, said the new rule would go a long way to address their concerns. But he said they would still seek a court order to ensure that the government could not impose similar requirements in the future.

Attorney Rienzi's comment is preceded by a from-the-mountaintop quote of support for the mandate:

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly supports the mandate. “Access to contraception is a medical necessity for women during approximately 30 years of their lives,” the group said.

The piece concludes with this bit of uncredited information:

Researchers say the Affordable Care Act has increased women’s access to contraceptives, including highly effective methods like intrauterine devices and implants. They suggest doing so may have contributed to a decline in unintended pregnancies.

What would we do without "researchers," particularly unnamed ones, who provided information linked to the crucial words "may have"?

As our blog reader noted, "What started out as a pretty decent piece ended up turning into an apologetics piece for the mandate."

I couldn't have said it better. 

Because The New York Times apparently believes the mandate is right and the nuns are wrong -- the paper cedes no middle ground in its reporting -- it has marinated its work in Kellerism to the detriment of, you know, actual old-school journalism.

UPDATE: For an alternative view on some of the basic facts in this story (backed with lots of source URLs) consider reading this report at The Federalist by M.Z. "GetReligionista emerita" Hemingway.

Yes, that is a conservative website. However, readers might enjoy comparing and contrasting some of the Times language and summaries of the facts with the Hemingway material.

Initial Image: Some of the Little Sisters of the Poor, and their supporters, outside the Supreme Court of the United States. Photo by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

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