From the March 29 edition of SiriusXM's Media Matters Radio:
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Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor at National Review Online, is again pushing misinformation about a significant reproductive justice case currently in front of the Supreme Court, which could grant unprecedented rights to secular, for-profit corporations at the expense of American workers.
The Supreme Court recently heard Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, a case that could drastically rewrite First Amendment and corporate law to make it easier for religious business owners to deny their female employees comprehensive employer-sponsored health insurance. Hobby Lobby, owned by the conservative Christian Green family, specifically objects to the fact that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) newly accepts all of the Institute of Medicine's recommendations for crucial women's preventive services, including contraceptive methods and counseling. Right-wing media have repeatedly misled on this case, and were quick to parse the transcripts in the wake of the oral arguments to declare victory for Hobby Lobby.
Ponnuru weighed in again on the case in a March 27 post, oversimplifying the federal law that Hobby Lobby is suing under to ignore the rights of Hobby Lobby's thousands of female employees, and misrepresenting a scientific study to support his unscientific arguments.
During the oral argument Justice Kennedy asked whether, on the government's theory of the case, it would be permissible to force companies to cover abortion in their insurance policies for their employees. I think the answer to that question is clearly yes. ... The case itself concerns a company that objects to covering drugs that may cause abortion.
For the purpose of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it is a sufficient answer to these points that the owners sincerely believe that offering coverage for the disputed drugs would violate their consciences. They sincerely believe that stopping implantation is equivalent to abortion, that the drugs pose an unacceptable risk of stopping implantation, and that they would be unacceptably complicit in what they consider to be an evil if they offered the coverage. To judge the RFRA claim, judges must decide whether those beliefs justify an exemption from a legal requirement without evaluating the merits of those beliefs.
Pro-lifers object to "ending a pregnancy" and "abortion" because they entail causing the death of a living human organism, which is indisputably what the human embryo is pre-implantation. The "view" that preventing implantation causes the end of a human life in that sense is simply a fact. Of course the law does not define the human embryo as "a human life" in the sense of a person with rights, but of course it does not so define unborn children long past implantation.
Ponnuru is barely half-right on the law. It is not "sufficient" for the owners of Hobby Lobby to assert only that they "sincerely believe" that some forms of contraception cause abortions (even though they really, really don't) -- they also have to show that the government has substantially burdened those beliefs. Even then, these sincere, if erroneous, burdened beliefs still must outweigh Congress' reasons for enacting the challenged law in the first place. Under RFRA, the government can at times indirectly burden religious exercise in a generally applicable law if it is necessary to further a "compelling governmental interest."
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent wrote that opponents of gun safety laws "must learn from Rosa Parks and definitely refuse to give up our guns," citing a Connecticut law that banned assault weapons following the use of an AR-15 in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
Nugent's claim in his regular column for conspiracy website WND that Parks is his "hero" because of her efforts to fight segregation came on the same day that Media Matters made available a copy of a 1990 interview where Nugent defended the apartheid, a system of racial segregation enforced in South Africa, with the claim, "All men are not created equal."
In his March 26 column, Nugent wrote, "If anyone believes that gun confiscation is not a real threat here in America or that it couldn't happen here like it did in the U.K. and Australia, just look to what is happening in Connecticut." Connecticut's new law prohibits the future purchase of assault weapons and requires current owners of assault weapons to register their guns. Despite a federal court ruling that the law is a constitutional means of regulating weapons under the Second Amendment, thousands of gun owners are reportedly refusing to register their weapons.
Nugent, who is also a spokesperson for the Outdoor Channel, went on to compare the supposed plight of gun owners to the experiences of victims of racial discrimination who fought against segregation:
In 1955, my hero, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat on a city bus. Good for her. In 2014, gun owners must learn from Rosa Parks and definitely refuse to give up our guns. As Rosa Parks once said, "You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right."
After the Supreme Court heard arguments in the legal challenge to contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), The Wall Street Journal's editorial board was quick to celebrate by pushing tired myths about the case and encouraging the judicial creation of new rights for corporations.
On March 25, the Supreme Court heard Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, a case that could allow secular, for-profit corporate employers the ability to deny their employees preventive health insurance coverage based on their owners' religious objections. The owners of Hobby Lobby, the Green family, identify as conservative Christians who oppose some forms of birth control that they have decided -- in the face of scientific evidence to the contrary -- cause abortions.
Right-wing media have relished this opportunity to reject reproductive rights and come out in support of the Green family and Hobby Lobby. In their first editorial since oral arguments, the WSJ's editors were predictably pro-Hobby Lobby, calling the Obama administration's argument that a for-profit, secular corporation is incapable of religious belief "remarkable":
[T]he Administration's remarkable argument is that if a business is incorporated and for-profit, it forfeits normal constitutional rights. Hobby Lobby is a chain of craft stores that is a closely held, family-run corporation that tries to operate in accord with biblical principles.
Trying to distinguish between for-profit and nonprofit corporate forms for this regulatory purpose is constitutionally unprecedented. Corporations are often treated as "persons" for legal purposes, such as protecting free speech, and prosecutors can indict entire corporations for breaking laws. As Chief Justice John Roberts observed, minority-owned businesses can bring racial discrimination lawsuits. So why can't Christian- or Muslim-owned businesses exercise religion? Solicitor General Donald Verrilli had no good answer.
Liberal Justices rolled out a parade of dubious hypotheticals, arguing that if a business can invoke religion to refuse to pay for abortifacients, couldn't it also refuse to pay for blood transfusions or vaccinations? "Could an employer preclude the use of those items as well?" asked Justice Sonia Sotomayor in the day's first question.
Yet no one is "precluding" anything. Contraception is cheap, plentiful and covered by most health plans. Most corporations are run for profit, not piety. Mr. Verrilli claimed the mandate is necessary to promote public health and gender equality, but HHS could have aided those goals without forcing a minority of business owners with moral aims to implicate themselves in what they consider to be grave moral wrongs.
But the fact that "most health plans" cover contraception is precisely the point, just not in the way the WSJ thinks.
On the same day the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, a significant reproductive rights case under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), right-wing media continued to push discredited misinformation about a different ACA case that could do even more damage to health care reform.
On March 25, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (finally fully-staffed) heard oral arguments in Halbig v. Sebelius. Unlike Hobby Lobby, Halbig has the potential to undermine the ACA as a whole by rendering the new federal health insurance marketplaces of the exchanges useless.
Since 2012, right-wing media have engaged in a loud campaign to push this challenge all the way to the conservative justices of the Supreme Court, even though legal experts agree this lawsuit is far-fetched and a distortion of the text, history, and purpose of the ACA. In the wake of yesterday's appellate arguments, conservative media is continuing to lecture Congress that legislators really meant to counter-intuitively destroy the ACA when they passed it, a bizarre argument that the editors of the National Review Online claimed "Democrats might have anticipated if they'd bothered reading the law." The Wall Street Journal took it as an opportunity to again accuse Obama of executive overreach, and invited the judiciary to "check on those abuses" and "vindicate the rule of law" by rewriting history to pretend Congress never intended tax credits in the federal exchanges.
A federal district court has already ruled against this unlikely argument, holding their "unpersuasive" legal theory about Congress' true intention contrary to common sense, because it would lead to "strange or absurd results."
Right-wing media have spent nearly a decade making false claims about birth control -- and now those falsehoods have found their way into the mouths of Supreme Court justices.
The Supreme Court on March 25 heard consolidated arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, which examine whether for-profit businesses can deny employees health insurance coverage based on the owners' personal religious beliefs, a radical revision of First Amendment and corporate law. The owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga argue they should not be forced by the government to provide their employees insurance which covers certain forms of contraception, because they believe those types of birth control can cause abortions.
The owners are wrong. Medical experts have confirmed they are wrong, repeatedly and strenuously, including experts at the National Institute of Health, the Mayo Clinic and the International Federation of Gynecology. The contraceptives Hobby Lobby objects to -- which include emergency contraceptives like Plan B and long-term contraceptives like Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) -- delay an egg from being fertilized, and as the former assistant commissioner for women's health at the FDA noted, "their only connection to abortion is that they can prevent the need for one."
Despite this overwhelming medical evidence, the myth that some of the contested forms of birth control are "abortifacients" has gone all the way to the Supreme Court -- and now has been repeated by some of the justices themselves. During the oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case, Justice Antonin Scalia responded to a point made by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the lawyer for the government, by referring to "birth controls ... that are abortifacient."
JUSTICE SCALIA: You're talking about, what, three or four birth controls, not all of them, just those that are abortifacient. That's not terribly expensive stuff, is it?
GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, to the contrary. And two points to make about that. First, of course the -- one of the methods of contraception they object to here is the IUD. And that is by far and away the method of contraception that is most effective, but has the highest upfront cost and creates precisely the kind of cost barrier that the preventive services provision is trying to break down.
Justice Stephen Breyer, while describing the position of the Hobby Lobby owners, also referred to "abortifacient contraceptives."
This misunderstanding matters because it could determine the outcome of the case. In order to win, a majority of justices may have to understand there is a compelling government interest in facilitating equal access to contraceptives across health insurance plans. It is an entirely different and more difficult question if the justices examine whether there is a compelling interest in the government facilitating access to abortion. Even though federal law explicitly prohibits federal funding of abortion and these birth control methods are not abortifacients, if the justices mistakenly think abortion is involved, this case becomes far more dangerous.
So whether the employees of for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby are guaranteed access to basic preventative health care could ultimately come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions. Whether for-profit companies are considered religious persons, a drastic change to constitutional corporate law, could come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions. Whether the rights of gay and lesbian employees are respected, and whether taxes, vaccines requirements, minimum wage, overtime laws are all upheld could come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions.
This simple lie about birth control could set up a chain of events that drastically alter health care by rewriting First Amendment and corporate law in this country -- and it's a lie that comes straight from the media, who have been pushing it for almost a decade.
Studies came out as early as 2004 pushing back on the idea that Plan B caused abortions, but Media Matters has repeatedly noted the tendency of journalists to get their facts wrong when addressing the issue. In 2005, CNN host Carol Costello gave a platform to a pharmacist who refused to fill a prescription for birth control pills because she thought they were equivalent to "chemical abortion." In 2007, Time magazine called the morning-after pill "abortion-inducing," while an AP article pushed the false Republican claims that emergency contraception destroys "developing human fetuses." In 2010, The Washington Times repeatedly equated emergency contraception to abortion.
And there was Lila Rose, the anti-abortion activist who in 2011 released videos heavily edited to deceptively portray practices at Planned Parenthood clinics, and who has equated contraception to "abortion-inducing drugs" which she claims exploit women. Rose and her mentor, James O'Keefe, defended their manipulation and falsification of evidence as "tactics" against the "genocide" of abortion, and she was supported and promoted on The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity's America, The Glenn Beck Show, The Laura Ingraham Show, while her work was been featured by Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, and National Review.
When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, and medical experts including the Institute of Medicine recommended including comprehensive coverage for contraception as part of the preventative care provisions, right-wing media freaked out, calling it "immoral" and "a way to eradicate the poor." Fox News ignored the overwhelming support for the resulting contraception policy, instead pretending that Catholic hospitals and employers were being victimized -- even as exemptions and accommodations were included for churches and religious nonprofits. By 2012, Fox News' Michelle Malkin was referring to the contraception regulations as an "abortion mandate." Now, right-wing media figures have used the Hobby Lobby case and others to bring back this lie, from Fox News to the Wall Street Journal, while Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham have become particularly fond of discussing these "abortifacients."
As Media Matters has previously explained, right-wing talking points demonizing birth control made their way into the amicus briefs presented to the court before the case was even argued, and Justice Scalia in particular has been known to repeat verbatim right-wing myths, such as the dubious idea that if the Supreme Court upheld the ACA the federal government could ultimately require consumers to purchase broccoli.
But the presence of the "abortifacient" lie during oral arguments takes this worrying tendency to a new level, raising the prospect that right-wing media's lies could potentially determine the outcome of a crucial case for religious and corporate law, hugely damaging reproductive rights in the process. If women lose the guarantee for their basic preventative health care, and corporations are granted even more flexibility as "persons" with religious rights, right-wing media will be partly to blame.
In a 1990 interview now available online for the first time, National Rifle Association board member and Outdoor Channel spokesperson Ted Nugent defended apartheid in South Africa, said that he uses racial expletives because he "hang[s] around with a lot of niggers," and described the bizarre efforts he claims to have taken to avoid military service during the Vietnam War.
Snippets from "Ted Nugent Grows Up? Older, Bolder, Cruder, Ruder -- And More Unprintable Than Ever," published in Detroit Free Press Magazine on July 15, 1990, have been floating around on the Internet for years. Media Matters requested a copy of the interview from the Detroit Public Library, which archives the Free Press, to authenticate the statements.
Nugent has recently been the subject of widespread controversy after calling President Obama a "subhuman mongrel" during an appearance at a January gun industry trade show. That comment resurfaced the next month when Republican Texas governor hopeful Greg Abbott invited Nugent to campaign with him. Abbott's decision created a firestorm of controversy around Nugent that only dissipated after he offered a disingenuous apology for his remark. Fallout continues from that controversy, as a Texas music festival recently announced it would pay Nugent not to show up for a planned performance.
The comments made by Nugent to Detroit Free Press Magazine demonstrate how his slur of Obama is par for the course for the NRA representative (all ellipses are DFP's):
Fox New's Shannon Bream misleadingly framed a case challenging reproductive rights in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) before the Supreme Court as an abortion issue when in fact the case deals with the inclusion of contraceptives, not abortion, as essential services under employer provided insurance.
On the March 25 edition of Special Report, Supreme Court correspondent Shannon Bream reported on oral arguments before the Supreme Court in the Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby case, which has to do with Hobby Lobby's desire to avoid the ACA's contraception mandate. Bream introduced the segment by claiming the case had to do with "abortion and Obamacare, two controversial topics that stir heated passions," later adding, "and that is just what happened both inside and outside the Supreme Court today":
Despite Fox's framing, the case is about contraception, not abortion. While Hobby Lobby has attempted to claim that their opposition to contraception is based on the belief that they are the equivalent of abortifacients, medical experts have explained that they are not. According to institutions such as the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, contraceptives such as the morning-after pill do not "terminate established pregnancies":
In federal law and medical terms, pregnancy does not begin with a fertilized egg, but with a fertilized egg that has implanted in the uterus. The contraceptives in question--Plan B, Ella, copper and hormonal IUDs--do not cause abortions as the plaintiffs maintain, because they are not being used to terminate established pregnancies.
Since the FDA approved Plan B in 1999, repeated studies have shown the drug does not inhibit implantation. After The New York Times' Pam Belluck investigated these findings in 2012, the NIH and the Mayo Clinic updated their websites to remove the implantation clause. In Europe, the label for the drug Norlevo, which is identical to Plan B, has already been changed to reflect the most recent research. And the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics and the International Consortium for Emergency Contraception have issued statements saying levonorgestrel-only emergency contraceptives do not stop implantation.
In fact, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, abortion coverage is "specifically banned from being required as part of the essential benefits package offered by plans in exchanges and all of the exchanges must offer consumers the choice of at least one plan that does not provide abortion coverage". Furthermore, the contraceptives objected to by Hobby Lobby are deemed contraceptives and not abortifacients by medical experts at the National Institute of Health, the Mayo Clinic and the International Federation of Gynecology.
Before the Supreme Court even heard oral arguments in the next big challenge to reproductive rights, National Review editor Rich Lowry was already misinforming about the facts of the case.
On March 25, the Supreme Court heard Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, a case that could grant the owners of for-profit, secular corporations the ability to deny their employees preventive services in employer-sponsored health insurance, contrary to federal law. The owners of Hobby Lobby, the Green family, incorrectly believe that some forms of contraception are "abortifacients" (even though they aren't). So, the Greens argue, because their religious beliefs prohibit any support of abortion, they cannot comply with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provision that requires American health insurance to cover preventive services, like birth control, at no cost.
Right-wing media has been all too happy to advance Hobby Lobby's arguments and ignore the scientific consensus disproving the corporate owners, framing the issue as evidence of President Obama's supposed hostility to religious freedom. National Review's Lowry, who is no stranger to misinforming about the contraceptive cases in front of the Supreme Court this term, was quick to join the pro-Hobby Lobby chorus.
In a recent post, Lowry portrayed the Greens as "law-abiding people running an arts-and-craft-chain," "minding their own business," until "Uncle Sam showed up to make an offer that the Greens couldn't refuse -- literally."
From the March 25 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Right wing media have repeatedly pushed the myth that contraceptives are affordable and accessible for all women, denying the disproportionate barriers to access many women experience -- access which is currently facing further challenges in the Supreme Court.
Newspaper coverage of the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood lawsuits downplayed the possibility that the Supreme Court could expand the concept of corporate personhood when ruling on the cases, which examine whether for-profit businesses can deny employees health insurance coverage for birth control based on the owners' personal religious beliefs. Only 3 out of 24 articles on the case in five major U.S. newspapers mentioned the potential unpopular expansion of corporate rights in the headline or first sentence.
USA Today allowed a deeply misleading op-ed to endorse the conservative plaintiffs challenging the Affordable Care Act's "contraceptive mandate" before the Supreme Court in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, without disclosing the author's professional connections to Hobby Lobby's owners.
On March 23, USA Today published an opinion piece by Ken Starr, former Clinton-era independent counsel and current president of Baylor University, arguing in favor of Hobby Lobby, the for-profit, secular corporation currently challenging the availability of women's preventive services in health insurance under the ACA. And yet USA Today did not disclose the fact that as part of its religious mission, Baylor has a professional relationship with the owners of Hobby Lobby.
Baylor explained its partnership with the Green family, Hobby Lobby's founding owners, in its alumni magazine:
Over the past few years, the Green family has become involved with the university through Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) and the Green Scholars Initiative (GSI). A partnership with the family has established Baylor as a major research partner and an academic home for the GSI's primary undergraduate program. Baylor plays a leadership role in providing undergraduate and graduate coursework and research.
The website of the Green Scholars Initiative confirms this close relationship between the Greens and Baylor.
This professional connection between Hobby Lobby and the author of an op-ed supporting the business' position before the Supreme Court should have been disclosed by USA Today, especially in light of Starr's extremely biased explanation of the case and outright inaccuracies. From his op-ed:
The Wall Street Journal doesn't understand how a federal anti-discrimination law that protects firefighters of color actually works, but that didn't stop one of its editorial board members from complaining about it.
On March 18, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city had settled a twelve-year lawsuit with a group of black firefighters who alleged that the entrance exams the department used resulted in impermissible racial discrimination that was unrelated to the skills necessary for the job. The group that filed the suit argued that the entrance exam had an unjustified disparate impact on black and Hispanic firefighters, a legal doctrine that has been codified in federal employment discrimination law and upheld repeatedly by the Supreme Court. In NYC, according to The Associated Press, the discriminatory effect occurred because "black firefighters have never made up more than 4 percent of the department's total," even though "more than half of residents identify with a racial minority group."
But the Wall Street Journal, whose editorial board is clearly no great fan of disparate impact litigation, was unimpressed by the numbers. In a recent post, the WSJ's Jason Riley argued that Mayor de Blasio's support of the settlement was misplaced since, despite the fact that the federal courts found the exams had an illegal disparate impact under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, "the city might have won" the case. Riley proceeded to label the long-standing legal doctrine prohibiting the city's illegal disparate impact on firefighters of color as "nonsense" (emphasis added):
"I think the numbers speak for themselves," said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio in announcing that the city had settled a discrimination lawsuit against the fire department. The mayor was suggesting that the FDNY's written exam is biased because blacks and Hispanics pass it at lower rates than whites.
But the numbers don't speak for themselves. Intent matters. Racially disparate outcomes alone are not proof of discrimination, yet advocates of such nonsense continue to exploit our legal system. "No speck of evidence is required from those who implicitly assume that employee composition would be similar to population composition, in the absence of discrimination," writes Thomas Sowell in "Intellectuals and Race." "Moreover, not one flesh-and-blood human being who even claims to have been discriminated against is necessary for 'disparate impact' cases to go forward in a costly legal process."
Gun researcher John Lott, an economist well known for his thoroughly discredited "More Guns, Less Crime" theory, is the latest member of right-wing media to offer baseless attacks on surgeon general nominee Vivek Murthy. According to Lott, one of the "good reasons" to oppose Murthy is that he supports doctors advising parents to safely store firearms so they are inaccessible to children.
In recent weeks Murthy has come under attack from the National Rifle Association and its allies in conservative media because, like the rest of the medical community, he believes gun violence is a public health concern. Murthy has said his concern about gun violence stems from his experiences as a doctor, but has also said that he would not "use the Surgeon General's office as a bully pulpit for gun control," and instead would make his top priority "obesity prevention."