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‘Segregation Now’ combines traditional reporting with multimedia elements to tell complete story

ProPublica‘s “Segregation Now: The Resegregation of America’s Schools” is a feat in both reporting and multimedia storytelling. This piece is part of an ongoing investigation examining segregation in America. The series is “investigating America’s racial divide in education, housing and beyond,” ProPublica writes.

There are actually two versions of this particular piece, one for people who want to read the narrative without extra elements – and one for people who want to embrace the extra information provided via multimedia components.

Read the plain text version here. The multimedia story is available here.

Through the lens of one particular town, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the story looks at America’s resegregated schools. “In Tuscaloosa today, nearly one in three black students attends a school that looks as if Brown v. Board of Education never happened,” author Nikole Hannah-Jones writes. “Tuscaloosa’s school resegregation—among the most extensive in the country—is a story of city financial interests, secret meetings, and angry public votes.”

At the time the story was published, 53 percent of the South’s black students attended schools where nine out of 10 students were racial minorities. “Segregation Now” tells this story through three generations of the Dent family. “The Dent family, from grandfather to granddaughter, has lived out integration’s fleeting wonder,” Hannah-Jones explains.

In many ways this news feature is similar to a traditional newspaper in-depth report. It relies on detailed fact-finding, identifying sources and getting people to share their stories. However, the ProPublica team utilized alternative storytelling formats and multimedia elements to advance the piece.

Here are some of the techniques that make this piece so interesting and readable – and some missing elements that could’ve aided the storytellers:

Linking/chunking

Here is one of the few areas of the piece I find problematic. The text-only version of “Segregation Now” contains no links and only three subheads, the name of each Dent, in a nearly 10,000-word story. I understand the desire to have a more simplistic version of the piece that’s easier for people to read. (This way people who resent multimedia components – or who are reading on the go – can still access the text.) However, there’s no reason not to include inline links to court decisions or past stories about the issue.

Linking is a simple – but versatile tool. “By using it properly, journalists can offer readers far more than what they can gather and process through their efforts,” the Interscholastic Online News Network explains.

More text breaks via chunking would also have served the story well. These elements would make processing the story easier.

Meanwhile, the multimedia version harnesses the benefits of chunking. Primarily, the storytellers used bold breakout text throughout the narration.

The screen shot below is an example. This change in text helps draw the reader away from the length of the story. It makes the piece seem easier to read. It also allows important facts to stand out by making them more prominent.

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Chunking creates more manageable pieces for readers. “Your goal should be to create chunks of information that can stand on their own, but that also fit within the larger context of your website,” Kivi Leroux Miller explains on the Nonprofit Communications Blog. “Segregation Now” does exactly this.

Alternative storytelling formats

The multimedia piece uses many different storytelling formats. In addition to breakout text and quotes, there are charts, photos with text, slideshows, a timeline and maps. Here are some of the ways these elements are used to advance “Segregation Now.”

Photos

Photos are at the heart of this piece. They are used throughout “Segregation Now” to introduce players in the story. They’re also used as slideshows, adding imagery and depth to the narrative.

Here, you’ll see a photograph that introduces us to a character. This is D’Leisha Dent.

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Below I’ve attached an example of a slideshow. These photos are used to expand on the narrative. The reader is able to explore beyond the text. This photo is the introduction to a slideshow that tells us about the resegregation of Tuscaloosa’s schools while also introducing current students.

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In addition, historical photographs are used at the beginning of the piece. The reader must scroll through them. Some of them are accompanied by text to advance the narrative, while others stand alone. The photographs are powerful.

Here’s a sampling of the historical photographs used to show how schools were integrated – and how white residents felt about that:

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This is the opening slide in the story. The title is written over a historical photograph.

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The pictures at the top of the story, which the reader must scroll through, are often accompanied by text providing backstory.

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Maps and data

The ProPublica story focused on Tuscaloosa but it represents a national problem. Thus, the storytelling team used a map to look at national segregation. This multimedia element is an effective way to advance the theme of the story. The map does not repeat information already in the piece, rather, it enhances it.

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This map shows how gerrymandered the Tuscaloosa school lines are, providing an easy-to-understand visual to complement the text.

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While “Segregation Now” is a story about people, data is important to conveying the theme. The numbers show how the schools were integrated and then resegregated. This particular chart shows Tuscaloosa’s black students often attend schools that have mostly minority students.

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While this is a story about people, data is important to explaining the trends.

Data allows journalists to explore “what is happening beyond what the eye can see,” the Data Journalism Handbook says. Individual points of information are not always relevant. However, when combined and analyzed, stories often emerge. The data in “Segregation Now” successfully proves schools in America’s southern states have become resegregated. By connecting and sharing this data, ProPublica tells us what the shift in education means.

Timeline

This timeline, used throughout the piece as the reader scrolls, summarizes the history of integration and resegregation in southern schools. Much of the information is new and serves to enhance the story. It’s important to put Tuscaloosa in perspective with what happened nationally. That’s exactly what this map does without bogging down the text.

Video

“Segregation Now: The Resegregation of America’s Schools” incorporates one video, which is more than 16 minutes long. It’s a fascinating piece about a principal’s fight to save Central High School. The video component of the story focuses on how to “make education relevant, make it practical, make education make sense,” as Principal Clarence Sutton Jr. explains on camera.

The video, available on its own here, incorporates historical context with the present day fight to improve education.

It’s a powerful video because it’s complementary to but different than the text story. We hear from Principal Sutton Jr. and Tuscaloosa students about the fight to help them obtain a fair education. The video also uses facts and informational tidbits.

Illustrated storytelling

While this story successfully uses multimedia, I think it should have encompassed  additional video in the form of illustrated storytelling. Poynter explains what illustrated storytelling looks like and how effective it can be. This Poynter article calls this format a “new and innovative type of journalism.”

I envision multiple Vox-style explainer videos that tell the audience how schools became segregated, integrated and then resegregated. These stories would be one minute each. This, “How a TV show gets made,” is a good example, although it’s longer than I’d suggest for this piece. These explainers would complement the 16-minute video that incorporates extra reporting and history to add to the text story.

Social media

ProPublica hosts an ongoing discussion about race in America through the “Segregation Now” banner. This is an ongoing series so the site smartly keeps the conversation alive. This allows reporters to develop a relationship with readers and keep people interested in the series. It could also lead to story ideas.

Here is an example:

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Social media was also important in helping this particular story reach more people. Twitter was especially useful. Academics, other reporters and people with influence shared it.

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Interactivity

“Segregation Now” is an interactive piece in the sense the reader has to scroll through the site. In addition, readers can select to view more photos by clicking on and then through slideshows.

I’ve included a screen shot below of an interesting interactive component used in the piece. The storytelling team created a database that allows readers to find schools in their own districts that have high minority populations. This helps localize the story, making it more relevant for readers who may not be from Tuscaloosa.

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I believe the level of interactivity used is perfect for this story. It’s enough to keep the reader engaged, offering a way to get involved. Any additional interactivity would likely have detracted from the story.

About the writing

“Segregation Now” is a news feature, based on the definition from Nieman Storyboard, though it does contain narrative. The piece starts with a scene. James Dent watches his granddaughter’s homecoming parade. We, as readers, know what the purpose of the story is. While there’s a great deal of scene setting, the purpose of the piece is to explain how Tuscaloosa’s schools became resegregated. We learn exactly how and when crucial decisions were made.

While a true narrative uses the characters to advance the plot, “Segregation Now” incorporates the characters within the reporting, interviews and facts. The characters aid the story, however, the theme could be reached without the Dents. It just wouldn’t have had nearly as much emotion and personality.

Narrative elements

The text at the heart of the story uses different narrative elements to advance the plot. Backstory is crucial to the piece. We learn about James and Melissa Dent and their lives before the present day. The author also details court decisions made in the years before D’Leisha attends school.

“In 1979, a federal judge had ordered the merger of the city’s two largely segregated high schools into one. The move was clumsy and unpopular, but its consequences were profound,” Hannah-Jones writes.

The story actually goes as far back to 1885. “Unlike many other southern cities, Tuscaloosa has a long tradition of educating black children. When the city founded its public-school system in 1885, it opened both white and black schools. That year, the new school board provided maps, tables, blackboards, and crayons for 274 white children and 173 black children,” the text reads.

This background is important in explaining the history of the town, the Dents and the problems with these schools. The incorporation of backstory is an important narrative element that makes this story meatier.

This piece includes multiple stories within the main story. The overall point of “Segregation Now” is to talk about how southern schools have become resegregated – and how that’s created disparity for minority students. However, the author uses three smaller stories to piece everything together. The stories are generational, represented by the three members of the Dent family.

The photos below show how the text is broken up into chapters:

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This screen shot shows the chapters in this story.
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This image starts James’ chapter.
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This is front the text-only version of the story.

Beyond websites

ProPublica should utilize new storytelling tools to advance the “Segregation Now” series. I would incorporate photo and video tools such as Explory, Storehouse and Steller. The multimedia components produced in these platforms could be used on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to further enrich this specific story and the series. They could take photos with facts and data and create short explainer-style videos with these apps.

Final thoughts

Mindy McAdams says journalists should answer the question, “What do you intend to communicate?” “This might be the most common mistake that journalists make: Often we give little or no thought to this question and its answer,” McAdams writes.

“Segregation Now” does not have this problem. It’s theme and purpose are clear. The text story and multimedia combine to tell the reader exactly what the problem is: America’s schools have become resegregated and that’s disenfranchising minority students.

“Segregation Now: The Resegregation of America’s Schools” is truly a compilation of the storytelling facets we discussed this semester. It’s a remarkable story driven by multimedia components. Text is combined with video, photos, slideshows, data, charts, maps and a timeline to give a multifaceted in-depth look at the segregation in these schools.

The ProPublica team pulled off a difficult task by creating a multimedia story with unique elements, while also digging deep to report an important, serious story. Reporters need to figure out how to balance these two tasks. Fact-finding, developing sources and reporting should never be forsaken in order to focus on developing additional components. However, these additional elements can be beneficial – and even essential – in telling complete stories.

“Segregation Now” is successful because the multimedia elements never distract from the text. Instead, they aid the story’s advancement. This is important. “We should not forget that producing multimedia content is as much about mindset as skills. Imitators of ‘Snow Fall’ might mistakenly add bells and whistles that do nothing to enhance the story itself,” McAdams writes on Medium.

Each multimedia element should serve a purpose. “Ideally, each one is used in a way that makes the most of its strengths. Components of the story are crafted to complement one another. Redundancy will detract from the experience—that is, if aspects of the story are told in video and also in the text, users might lose interest quickly,” McAdams explains.

This story is an achievement in this field. I hope this serves as a model for journalists.

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‘History of the Highrise’ takes viewers through time, around the world

“A Short History of the Highrise” from the New York Times utilizes a combination of different elements to orient viewers with the story. The project’s use of these techniques broadens the audience’s scope of understanding.

This story can be dark. At times, it’s harrowing. We see how, throughout history, people of lesser financial means have been treated.

By using four distinct, but linear, chapters, the reporters use a traditional book style. This breaks the history into thoughtful, digestible pieces. By breaking the story up into chapters, the reporters allow each piece to tell a unique part of the greater whole.

The quality of light changes in the videos to convey time’s passage throughout the series. This helps convey to the audience that this piece is temporal. Viewers realize they are also located in a specific time and place, which they can compare to what they are seeing on the screen. In a particularly powerful scene, we’re inside a house and the narrator talks about the adoption of electricity. The room, via graphic inserts, goes from being dimly lit to brightly spotlighted.

The graphics used keep the lack of native photos from threatening this project’s success. Through the graphics, the audience watches buildings spring up. These serve as a marker for time and make clear its passage. You are struck. You see a city with relatively few buildings and then watch as modern New York City rises up.

A singular aspect of this piece, throughout the first three chapters, is the incorporation of archival photographs. The story is told in part through these photos, which further highlight our passage through time. It’s an incredibly resourceful way to tell a story without actual video footage.

 

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The New York Times uses archival photos to tell the story and highlight the passage of time.
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Viewers watch as modern New York City springs up.

I truly appreciate the sense of time and place. As we watch the buildings spring up, the narrator talks about a “montage of modern conveniences.” Both the narration and the imagery take the reader on a journey: the development of a city.

Aged photographs and sketches take the audience on a linear journey through the years. We start with a biblical graphic and have text to frame viewers’ minds 2,000 years ago. It’s a successful element that demarcates.

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Historical sketches are used throughout the piece. 
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The photographs help orient the reader to a specific time and place.

 

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The first three chapters are essentially a video timeline. This is an incredible effective way to tell a story of development. 

The historical components may run parallel to the story of the highrise, setting the ground work that facilitated these modern housing developments. We learn that in 1743 Louis the 15th commissioned an early elevator – to easily visit his mistress, nonetheless. But it’s made clear that the king’s dalliance is important in the larger scheme. Just 200 years ago, the elevator propelled the industrial revolution. These time components are coupled with photographs of immigrants, taking us right to the tenements.

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The highrise comes to prominence about 100 years ago. This is where the historical context, photos, additional graphics and timeline intertwine to really ground the viewer in the story with a sense of time and place.

The year 1884 shows just how crucial the historical images are to the timeline. They take us back. Similarly, when we travel to 1989, we see the Berlin wall. The videos at this point serve as maps of sort – especially at the Wall.

While New York City is the focal point of the piece, the series takes us around the world to really anchor the viewer in historical context. Highrises and these housing developments were going up simultaneously throughout the world. There’s a broader picture that doesn’t start or end with New York City.

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The New York Times takes viewers around the world to put New York City in historical perspective. This still frame shows a clip of the Berlin Wall.

The timeline and world history often work together. For instance, we learn that 700 years ago public housing projects sprang up in Arizona – and a Chinese province. Then, 500 years ago, people in Yemen start living near each other.

It also helps people understand how New York City – and the United States – fit into the grander fullness of the world. We learn about how public housing in the United States compared to – and aligned with – projects in Great Britain, Russia, Vienna and Mexico City. We can understand these housing developments – and the treatment of the poor – were not specific to New York City. In fact, the treatment of immigrants and financially insecure people in New York City mirrored similar movements around the world.

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These still frames show us New York City and similar situations around the world. They help the reader compare and contrast what is happening in the United States with other activities in other countries. 

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We learn that in 1968, a highrise in Britain collapsed, killing five. We learn about mass housing in New York City – and see the similarly problematic early legacy throughout the world.

 

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This video series takes viewers around the world.

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Measuring tools round out the highrise history with more context. As mass housing projects were destroyed, replaced with taller condos to accommodate wealthier buyers, we can see the heights of these living quarters changing. This helps the viewer understand how the former occupants were disenfranchised. We literally watch as their units were razed and then rebuilt outside of their price ranges. Out of the ashes came properties for people who could spend more to live.

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Viewers watch, through a graphic, as the buildings grow taller. 

We then watch a narrative element that features graphics of floor plans shrinking.

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In order to fit more people in a given space, developers turn toward small units. The New York Times uses shrinking floor plan graphics to convey this. 

The final element surprised me. The project comes full circle with reader photos of their homes. We see how important a sense of home is to people. The timeline shows us how different periods affected the spaces people called home. The maps shows us these are common sentiments the world over. A Patrick Watson song titled “Lighthouse” plays throughout the end sequence, again a somewhat jolting – but not bad – feeling. A lighthouse guides sailors home, and this project is meant to guide you to a greater understanding of your home.

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Live updates: President Obama talks about fair wages for women, minimum wage

ORLANDO, Fla. – President Barack Obama is speaking at Valencia College in Orlando about economic equality for women. Follow our live updates throughout the president’s speech.

5:43 p.m. Obama has concluded his remarks.

5:42 p.m.

The White House is holding a summit for working families this summer. Obama is closing this Valencia speech by talking about how he thinks the Affordable Care Act has helped women. He says before the act insurance companies were charging women significantly more. Now women can’t be discriminated against in the same fashion, Obama says. “We’ve got to do more.”

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President Barack Obama talks about equal pay and other women’s issues at Valencia College. Still frame via White House/YouTube

5:39 p.m.

Women are still earning 77 cents on every earned by men, the president says. Over the course of a career, women with colleges degrees may earn hundreds of thousands less.

(Editor’s note – 6:35 p.m.: Not everyone agrees with the president that women make 77 cents for every dollar men make. PolitiFact explains here. Depending on the measuring technique used, women make 81 cents on the dollar or 87 cents on the dollar, according to this Salon article.)

Congress should vote to raise the minimum wage, Obama says. It would be good for workers – and business, he says. “Give America a raise,” the president says.

 

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White House/YouTube

5:35 p.m.

Congress doesn’t always work as we’d like, the president says to laughter from the audience. He says he’s going to take every opportunity to make changes. He points to his executive authority use to make the minimum wage for federal contractors $10.

The economy needs to reward the hard work of women, Obama says. “I’ve got a personal stake in seeing women get ahead … First of all women make up 80 percent of my household, if you include my mother-in-law – and I always include my mother-in-law,” the president says.

“It’s time for a women’s economic agenda that grows our economy,” the president says.

 

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White House/YouTube

5:32 p.m.

“Here’s the problem,” Obama says. Trends that have hurt middle class families have not improved. “We’ve got to build an economy that works for everybody,” the president adds.

Obama is laying out his four-part agenda. Part one is creating more jobs that pay well. He says they’ve focused on growing tourism in Orlando and points to an increase in spending by foreign tourists.

More Americans have to be trained to take the jobs that are out there, Obama says. That’s part two. Part three is making sure young people can go to college, he says.

Part four, Obama says, is making the economy reward every hard working American.

 

5:25 p.m.

President Obama commends Valencia College for receiving the Aspen Prize, an award that recognizes the country’s top performing community colleges. In fact, Valencia was the first school in the country to win the prize. The crowd cheers at that statement.

Obama says his “driving force” has been making it so everyone who works hard can get ahead.

Obama says businesses have created 8.7 million new jobs during the past four years. In he says addition, American manufactures are adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s.

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President Obama says Congress should approve the Paycheck Fairness Act and increase the minimum wage. White House/YouTube

 

5:19 p.m.

President Obama welcomes the Orlando crowd. He begins with a joke, saying he’s glad the women in attendance are working while “a lot of folks are pretending to work and watching the tournament.” “There must be some Gators fans around here,” Obama says, adding that he has Florida in his Final Four bracket.

 

Accounts to follow for health policy news

If you’re interested in health policy news – whether you’re in need of health insurance or are interested in politics – you should be following these social media accounts.

Kaiser Health News Twitter

Kaiser Health News is a media outlet dedicated to health care policy and politics. This account is a must-follow because the reporters provide diverse, informative and in-depth health policy information. The site covers health law, Medicare and Medicaid, care costs, insurance and other health policy topics.

HealthCare.gov Facebook and Twitter

HealthCare.gov is the Health Insurance Marketplace’s website. The Facebook page provides updates and information about health insurance for people looking for coverage or looking for information on the program.

Julia Belluz Twitter

Julia Belluz is a a writer for Vox. She covers public and global health issues. She also reports on the politics of health.

Where to get insurance help in Tampa

Figuring out the world of health insurance and finding out what is best for you and your family can be a hassle.

If you’re considering an Affordable Care Act plan or want to know whether one is right for you, there are places to go for in-person help. The map below shows you the centers in Tampa.

For those looking in other areas, find a facility near you here. If you’re a small business owner who needs information about insurance for employees, go here.

 

Aging baby boomers mean more FL seniors

As the baby boomers continue to age, the number of Florida senior citizens has rapidly expanded. Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964, meaning they are 51-70 today.

This increase in Florida’s senior citizen population will have numerous affects on healthcare and the policies needed to provide care. During the next 11 years, 19.1 million more people are projected to join the Medicare program, according to Becker’s Hospital CFO. You can enroll in Medicare at age 65.

This chart shows Florida’s growing population, triggered in part by the increase in senior citizens:

How the Affordable Care Act came to be

In March 2010 President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. Health care reform was propelled by Obama’s election and his address in February 2009 to a joint session of Congress.

“So let there be no doubt: Health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year,” CNN reports Obama said in that speech.

It was a long and grueling process and opponents of the bill used town halls to drum up anger about the measure. Still, in the end, the measure was approved.

Here’s a photo timeline of the Affordable Care Act:

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President Barack Obama is inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2009. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/US Navy via Wikimedia Commons
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President Obama hosted a health care summit on March 5, 2009. Pete Souza/White House via Wikimedia Commons
POTUS in East Room speaking at 2nd session Health Summit
Senator Ted Kennedy speaks during the health care summit as the president listens. Kennedy was, CNN reports, a leading proponent of health care reform. His August 2009 passing was seen as a threat to the bill. Pete Souza/White House via Wikimedia Commons
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Town halls and rallies are held throughout the country. In this photo, people gather in West Hartford, Connecticut before a town hall with U.S. Representative John B. Larson in September 2009. Sage Ross photo via Wikimedia Commons
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Protesters yell before Representative Larson’s September 2009 town hall. Sage Ross photo via Wikimedia Commons
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Representative Larson hosted this town hall. Sage Ross photo via Wikimedia Commons
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President Obama talks with Sen. Tom Harkin in March 2010 after the Senate passed the health care bill. Pete Souza/White House photo via Wikimedia Commons
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President Obama signs the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010. Pete Souza/White House via Wikimedia Commons
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On June 28, 2012 the Supreme Court declared the health care law’s individual mandate constitutional. US government photo via Wikimedia Commons

What you need to know about birth control & the Supreme Court

Birth control is again before the Supreme Court. The justices are set to rule on a case involving the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate and whether religious non-profits should be allowed to completely opt out – rather than asking for an accommodation. The justices agreed to hear the case on Nov.

History

The Affordable Care Act mandated companies’ insurance plans cover the cost of birth control for employees.

However, in 2014 the Supreme Court sided 5-4 with Hobby Lobby in its case against the Affordable Care Act. In that case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Hobby Lobby wanted the ability to opt out of providing birth control coverage.

The Supreme Court sided with the company, saying closely-held, or family-owned, for-profit companies didn’t have to cover birth control. Read the deciding opinion here.

The mandate placed a burden on companies, challenging their religious liberty, Justice Samuel Alito said, according to the New York Times.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and other dissenting justices called the decision radical, as the Times reported. Justice Ginsburg said it was the first time religious protections had been placed upon corporations.

Current case

In its current term the court will decide whether religious non-profits have enough accommodations when it comes to the birth control mandate.

What the law currently says

Religious non-profits do not have to provide birth control coverage directly. They can ask for accommodations. When an accommodation is filed, employees still have access to birth control through their insurers.

What the plaintiffs say

Little Sisters of the Poor, a nursing home, and Wheaton College, both religious institutions, say they want exemptions – not accommodations, SCOTUS Blog explains. They say the law burdens them. They point to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Only houses of worship, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation website, are currently eligible for exemptions. The exemptions mean employees don’t have “guaranteed contraceptive coverage,” the Kaiser website explains.