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The New York Times' Supreme Court expert, Linda Greenhouse, wrote that the recent Supreme Court case about the opt-out process developed to accommodate religious nonprofits' objections to the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) contraceptive mandate “is not a case about nuns” -- a reference to one of the plaintiffs in the case, The Little Sisters of the Poor. Greenhouse noted that “opponents of the contraception mandate have been brilliant in positioning the case as being about nuns,” even though the Little Sisters are only one of the 30 plaintiffs, and that “it’s hard to believe” that such positioning “has not at least subliminally played on the instincts and helped to shape the views of some members of the Supreme Court.”
In Zurbik v Burwell, the Supreme Court was asked to decide if the objecting 30 religious nonprofits -- which, Greenhouse wrote, included “Little Sisters of the Poor, a religious order whose mission is to run nursing homes for the elderly poor” -- were substantially burdened by the requirement that they notify their insurance provider that they object to providing contraception coverage. This notification would then allow the insurance providers to provide cost-free contraceptive coverage to the employees of the objecting religious nonprofits. On May 16, the Supreme Court opted not to decide the case on its merits and sent it back to the lower courts, hoping that the government and the plaintiffs would work out a compromise .
Greenhouse wrote that aside from the Little Sisters, the other plaintiffs include high schools, colleges, charities and several individuals, saying that “it’s time for the administration and its supporters to recapture the narrative and make clear to a confused public that this is not a case about nuns. It’s a case about women who should not, by reason of their particular employment, have to forfeit the right to comprehensive health care that the law makes available to other women in the work force.”
From The New York Times’ May 26 column:
By my count, the Little Sisters of the Poor (who, as I’ve noted before, advertise themselves as equal-opportunity employers in the nursing home enterprise) are only one of 30 petitioners in the seven Supreme Court cases. The other 29 include Catholic and Baptist colleges, Catholic high schools, individual bishops, two chapters of Catholic Charities, other charities, and several individuals. Granted, it’s more compelling to hear about the travails of the Little Sisters (who even merited a photo op with Pope Francis last September) than about the objection to contraception coverage held by the named plaintiff in the lead case, the Most Reverend David A. Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Opponents of the contraception mandate have been brilliant in positioning the case as being about nuns who have a name “perfectly pitched to make liberals/progressives squirm,” as Mona Charen wrote in National Review in a post that accused The Washington Post of burying the group’s name in its story about the court’s decision. A reader had to turn to the jump, Ms. Charen complained, and “read down another five paragraphs to learn this is the case brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor.” Well, yes, and 29 other plaintiffs.
So pervasive has the administration-versus-nuns narrative been that it’s hard to believe that it has not at least subliminally played on the instincts and helped to shape the views of some members of the Supreme Court. Now that the cases are most likely back to square one, it’s time for the administration and its supporters to recapture the narrative and make clear to a confused public that this is not a case about nuns. It’s a case about women who should not, by reason of their particular employment, have to forfeit the right to comprehensive health care that the law makes available to other women in the work force. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but an urgent task.