Washington Times columnist Robert Knight falsely claimed that a lawsuit of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is an assault on religion that is trying to "force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions." In fact, if the complaint is accurate, it is a straightforward negligence claim that alleges a pregnant woman's life was needlessly put in harm's way when she was denied appropriate care by a Catholic hospital adhering to binding directives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
On November 29, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of Tamesha Means, a Michigan woman who alleges she was denied proper and ethical medical care for an emergency miscarriage by Mercy Health Partners (MHP), a Catholic hospital under the authority of the USCCB. The USCCB forbids hospitals like Mercy from assisting in or facilitating abortions.
According to Means' complaint, she went to the emergency room at Mercy when she started to miscarry at just 18 weeks. Despite the fact that the fetus would most likely be stillborn or "die very shortly thereafter," doctors at Mercy never provided information about the option of an abortion, even though prolonging the pregnancy was life-threatening. Instead, Means says, the hospital sent her home twice -- even though she was having contractions, was in pain, and bleeding. On Means' third visit to Mercy's emergency room -- the only hospital reportedly within a half-hour's drive of her home -- she went into labor. Means' baby died just two hours after delivery.
In his December 5 editorial, Knight mischaracterized the basis of the lawsuit, complaining that the ACLU is attempting to "force Catholic doctors everywhere to violate their faith by facilitating abortions":
The ACLU wants Catholic hospitals to practice medicine without morals.
The American Civil Liberties Union is so upset that a Michigan baby died just after being born that the group is suing the Catholic Church for not deliberately killing the child earlier.
In a lawsuit filed on Nov. 29 against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in U.S. District Court in Michigan, the ACLU contends that the church's medical directives reflecting a pro-life stance against abortion resulted in negligent care for a woman with a troubled pregnancy who eventually lost the child.
"It's not just about one woman," said Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan ACLU, in a Newsmax report quoted in The Washington Times. "It's about a nationwide policy created by nonmedical professionals putting patients in harm's way."
Translation: Either the Catholic Church directs Catholic hospitals to perform abortions or it will be bankrupted, courtesy of the ACLU, which fights for the "right" to abort even full-term, healthy babies.
This is about far more than Ms. Means' tragic situation or one hospital's alleged negligence. It's about forcing Catholic doctors everywhere to violate their faith by facilitating abortions. It strikes at the very heart of religious freedom and freedom of conscience. It's a corollary to the Department of Health and Human Services' mandate under Obamacare that faith-based institutions or businesses run by devoutly religious owners provide contraceptives regarded as abortifacients or face ruinous fines.
Since only the Catholic Church bothered to build a hospital within 30 minutes of Ms. Means' home, the ACLU contends that the facility should operate without religious principles guiding it or simply switch to the ACLU's brand of moral relativism, where unborn children are merely options.
It's like building the only power plant and providing electricity where there was none and then getting sued for not electrocuting the people that the ACLU thinks are expendable.
But this complaint is not questioning the religious faith of Catholic doctors. Following basic personal injury law and theories of vicarious liability, the ACLU alleges that because the USCCB required an anti-abortion policy at the Catholic hospital, the USCCB was responsible for egregiously substandard medical care.
In a post on National Review Online about a series of lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) contraception mandate, editor at large Jonah Goldberg misled about the mandate, how contraception actually works, and then asked why conservatives are considered the "aggressors in the culture war".
On November 26, the Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments in Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius and Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores. Even though the plaintiffs are for-profit, secular corporations, they want to claim an unprecedented exemption from a generally applicable law -- the ACA's contraception mandate -- because the individual owners of the companies claim their religious opposition to birth control is constitutionally more significant.
Goldberg viewed this opposition as evidence of Democrats "getting deeply involved in the reproductive choices of nearly every American," arguing that the "conventional narrative" that "conservatives are obsessed with social issues" is thus unfair. Goldberg also significantly underestimated the impact a Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would have on well-established First Amendment and corporate precedent.
From Goldberg's December 5 post:
Maybe someone can explain to me how, exactly, conservatives are the aggressors in the culture war? In the conventional narrative of American politics, conservatives are obsessed with social issues. They want to impose their values on everyone else. They want the government involved in your bedroom. Those mean right-wingers want to make "health-care choices" for women.
Now consider last week's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to consider two cases stemming from Obamacare: Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius and Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores. Democratic politicians and their fans on social media went ballistic almost instantly. That's hardly unusual these days. But what's revealing is that the talking points are all wrong.
Suddenly, the government is the hero for getting deeply involved in the reproductive choices of nearly every American, whether you want the government involved or not. The bad guy is now your boss who, according to an outraged Senator Patty Murray (D.,Wash.), would be free to keep you from everything from HIV treatment to vaccinating your children if Hobby Lobby has its way. Murray and the White House insist that every business should be compelled by law to protect its employees' "right" to "contraception" that is "free."
[B]irth-control pills really aren't the issue. Both companies suing the government under Obamacare have no objection to providing insurance plans that cover the cost of birth-control pills and other forms of contraception. What both Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties object to is paying for abortifacients -- drugs that terminate a pregnancy rather than prevent one. (Hobby Lobby also opposes paying for IUDs, which prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.) The distinction is simple: Contraception prevents fertilization and pregnancy. Drugs such as Plan B may terminate a pregnancy, albeit at an extremely early stage.
The plaintiffs in these cases aren't saying the government should ban abortifacients or make it impossible for their employees to buy them. All they are asking is that the people using such drugs pay for them themselves rather than force employers and co-workers to share the cost. In other words, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood want such birth-control decisions to be left to individual women and their doctors. Leave the rest of us out of it.
To answer Goldberg's initial question: conservatives are generally thought of as "the aggressors in the culture war" because they have dedicated countless legislative hours to passing unconstitutional abortion laws, have attempted to confer personhood on fertilized eggs, and often voted to defund clinics like Planned Parenthood, eliminating access to crucial family-planning services. In 2012, Republicans in Virginia tried to pass a bill that would have forced women to have a transvaginal ultrasound before obtaining an abortion -- a requirement that would have violated the federal definition of rape. Most recently, congressional Republicans threatened to shut the government down due to their opposition to access to contraception.
From the December 5 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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From the December 4 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Fox's Andrew Napolitano mischaracterized the the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate, pretending the law would force employers to provide insurance coverage for abortion.
On Fox's America's News HQ, network senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano hyped a legal challenge to the ACA by Notre Dame University, which refiled a lawsuit this week contesting the law's birth control mandate. Napolitano claimed the suit is "based upon Obamacare's imposition of an obligation on Notre Dame -- full disclosure, I'm an alumnus of Notre Dame -- which forces it to acquire health insurance which provides coverage for contraception and abortion, both of which violate Catholic core teaching."
Notwithstanding Napolitano's incorrect characterization, the ACA does not require employers to pay for insurance covering abortions. Instead, it requires states to provide at least one health plan that does not cover abortion in order to accommodate employers whose religious beliefs conflict with providing abortion coverage:
National Review Online Senior Editor Ramesh Ponnuru dedicated his Bloomberg View column to misleading about two unprecedented Supreme Court cases that could make it easier for for-profit, secular corporations to refuse to provide insurance coverage to its employees that includes comprehensive preventive care.
On November 26, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, two cases that would allow some corporations to obtain exemptions from the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA already provides exemptions and accommodations for non-profit, religiously-affiliated organizations like churches and hospitals -- but the plaintiffs in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga are for-profit businesses that sell crafts and wood cabinets, respectively.
But that didn't stop NRO's Ponnuru from complaining that the contraception mandate runs afoul of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) because it imposes a "substantial burden" on Hobby Lobby and Conestoga. Ponnuru insisted that corporations are well within their rights to refuse to pay for coverage of preventive care such as contraception for their employees, but didn't seem to mind that allowing corporations to dictate the personal health choices of its employees could very well infringe on those employees' religious beliefs.
From Ponnuru's December 1 editorial:
From reading the New York Times, you might think that religious conservatives had started a culture war over whether company health-insurance plans should cover contraception. What's at issue in two cases the Supreme Court has just agreed to hear, the Times editorializes, is "the assertion by private businesses and their owners of an unprecedented right to impose the owners' religious views on workers who do not share them."
That way of looking at the issue will be persuasive if your memory does not extend back two years. Up until 2012, no federal law or regulation required employers to cover contraception (or drugs that may cause abortion, which one of the cases involves). If 2011 was marked by a widespread crisis of employers' imposing their views on contraception on employees, nobody talked about it.
What's actually new here is the Obama administration's 2012 regulation requiring almost all employers to cover contraception, sterilization and drugs that may cause abortion. It issued that regulation under authority given in the Obamacare legislation.
The regulation runs afoul of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a Clinton-era law. That act says that the government may impose a substantial burden on the exercise of religious belief only if it's the least restrictive way to advance a compelling governmental interest. The act further says that no later law should be read to trump this protection unless it explicitly says it's doing that. The Affordable Care Act has no such language.
Is a marginal increase in access to contraception a compelling interest, and is levying steep fines on employers who refuse to provide it for religious reasons the least burdensome way to further it? It seems doubtful.
Ponnuru's characterization of these lawsuits as entirely mainstream is misleading. Although the Supreme Court held in Citizens United that corporations had the right to engage in political speech without undue government restrictions, for the Court to hold that a corporation is a "person" capable of religious belief or conscience would be a radical reimagining of both First Amendment and corporate law precedent. As David Gans of the Constitutional Accountability Center pointed out, "it is nonsensical to treat a business corporation as an actor imbued with the same rights of religious freedom as living persons. No decision of the Supreme Court has ever recognized such an absurd claim."
Fox News repeatedly conflated the emergency contraceptive Plan B (also known as the morning-after pill) with abortion while covering two Supreme Court cases brought by companies that object to the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) birth control coverage benefits. However, experts agree that the morning-after pill is not abortion -- it prevents pregnancy but cannot stop pregnancy after fertilization takes place.
Absurd smears against a highly-qualified judicial nominee for her support of family planning, sex equality, and conservative attempts to dismantle gender stereotypes made the jump from right-wing blogs to the Fox News Channel.
On November 25, Fox News' Shannon Bream correctly reported that the former Connecticut attorney general, among a wide collection of bipartisan legal experts, supports the nomination of the eminently qualified Georgetown Law Professor Cornelia "Nina" Pillard to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C Circuit. Unfortunately, Bream proceeded to repeat right-wing media myths accusing Pillard of "radical feminis[m]" and hosted National Review Online contributor Carrie Severino to recycle the smears. From America's Newsroom, with co-host Martha MacCallum:
MACCULLUM: What are the critics saying that are opposed to her?
BREAM: Well they say she is way out of the mainstream and she deserves a lot of scrutiny. Here's a bit of what she has said when writing about abortion issue. Here's a quote from one of her articles: "Anti-abortion laws and other restraints on reproductive freedom not only enforce woman's incubation of unwanted pregnancies, but also prescribe a 'vision of the woman's role' as mother and caretaker of children in a way that is at odds with equal protection." Here's Carrie Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network.
SEVERINO: Nina Pillard is probably the most extreme judge that has been nominated for this court and possibly for any court in the country. She has a very radical track record as a law professor, really seems to view everything from a radical feminist perspective, down to thinking that abstinence education violates the Equal Protection Clause and feeling like women are being objectified as breeders in the country.
BREAM: She has used that word referring to women as breeders if they are forced to carry pregnancies that they don't want to have. But at this point it looks like there is no blocking her, it is likely she will take a seat on that very important court.
Since Pillard was nominated, she has been subjected to sexist, retrograde, and false accusations that her views on reproductive rights are not in the mainstream. In fact, they are based on decades-old constitutional law, including a decision written by arch-conservative former Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
For example, the quote that Bream yanked out of context from a 2007 academic article in which Pillard noted that "antiabortion laws and other restraints on reproductive freedom not only enforce women's incubation of unwanted pregnancies, but also prescribe a "vision of the woman's role" as mother and caretaker of children in a way that is at odds with equal protection[,]" is an explicit reference to the fact that justices on the Supreme Court have already incorporated equal protection principles into their reproductive rights precedent. Unmentioned by Bream, the quote was part of a discussion of the 1992 decision of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, which reaffirmed the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade.
The notion that damaging gender stereotypes can be at the core of restrictions on reproductive rights is also based on long-standing constitutional precedent.
Rush Limbaugh overlooked the mechanics of the morning-after pill to liken it to an abortion drug, ignoring that Plan B does not terminate a pregnancy and must be taken within five days of intercourse to be effective.
On the November 25 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show, host Limbaugh highlighted a European company's claim that its version of Plan B, the emergency contraceptive pill, may be less effective in women who weigh over 165 pounds. Limbaugh speculated that because of this announcement, a pregnant woman who weighs more than 165 pounds and wants to end her pregnancy must either go on a diet before taking the morning-after pill or get an abortion:
LIMBAUGH: Now we have learned that American women, 166 pounds and up, the Plan B pill doesn't work. What will their option be? 166, 170 pound woman, pregnant, she wants to go ahead and get her morning-after pill, and then she's told, 'Sorry, you're too big. You're too heavy. It won't work.' What are her options? Well, she can either go on a diet, or she can get an abortion.
Right-wing media figures capitalized on provocative advertisements for Obamacare from non-profit groups in Colorado to attack a woman who uses free birth control as a "slut," "whore," and "prostitute."
From the November 13 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Rush Limbaugh highlighted a series of ads produced by private Colorado nonprofits that promote the contraception provisions of the Affordable Care Act to revive attacks on Sandra Fluke, the law student and reproductive choice advocate that he labeled a "slut."
Nonprofit organizations ProgressNow Colorado and the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative released a series of ads encouraging Colorado residents to apply for insurance through the state's health insurance exchanges. The ads included messages that highlighted increased access to contraception through insurance coverage. The Denver Post reported that the ads were targeted at young people and have ignited controversy:
In one of the most discussed "Got insurance?" ads, produced by the liberal ProgressNow Colorado and the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, a young woman holds a packet of birth-control pills and stands next to a young man, his hand wrapped around her waist.
So what's she thinking?
"OMG, he's hot! Let's hope he's as easy to get as this birth control. My health insurance covers the pill, which means all I have to worry about is getting him between the covers," read the words in the risqué advertisement.
While the groups say the aim is to encourage young people to enroll in the state's new health insurance exchange -- a pillar to President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act -- some have said it belittles women. It also adds to the partisan back-and-forth over the new health care law.
Limbaugh used the ads to recall Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student who testified before congress about reproductive access, leading Limbaugh to label her a "slut" and "prostitute." On the November 13 edition of his radio show, Limbaugh claimed he was vindicated by the ads and revived his attack on Fluke:
LIMBAUGH: All right, now, here's the ad. I'm gonna turn the Dittocam on. You've heard me read the text. Here is the ad. That ad is promoting promiscuity. That ad is associating promiscuity with Obamacare. Obamacare will get you your birth control pill so you can get him and you can get her. And you can get each other between the covers. You don't have to worry about anything because Obamacare's got you covered because you got insurance.
Let me show you this one more time. I have to pull this down because I've got the Dittocam really focused in. I think back, ladies and gentlemen, when I predicted, I warned everybody that's where this was headed. I forget that woman's name now, Snerdley, the one that was in that fake congressional hearing press conference. But she was sitting there, and she was basically saying, "Look, I want to have limitless, endless sex, I want you to pay for it. It's costing me $3,000 a month for my birth control, but I can't afford that with my tuition and everything else and I want you all to pay for it." And I was like any normal, responsible person, I was insulted by this, that we were being told we have to pay for this, which is behavior we don't sanction. We don't think there's anything good that can come of it.
National Review Online has joined Fox News contributor Erick Erickson in smearing Wendy Davis, Democratic candidate for governor of Texas, for using boilerplate legal language in a defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) lawsuit filed on her behalf against a local Fort Worth newspaper nearly 20 years ago.
Earlier this week, Erickson questioned Davis' "mental health" and corresponding suitability for public office after learning about a civil lawsuit her lawyers filed in 1996 in response to disparaging editorials directed at Davis during her unsuccessful run for city council, information he sourced to a website run by the Republican Party of Texas. NRO picked up the story, clumsily characterizing the complaint as "light on subtlety and nuance," without realizing that the language it highlighted are standard legal elements for an IIED claim. From NRO:
Following an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Fort Worth city council in 1996, Davis sued the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, along with parent companies ABC and Disney, for libel, alleging that the paper's coverage of her campaign had been biased and "demonizing," caused harm to her physical and mental health, and infringed on her "right to pursue public offices in the past and in the future." Davis demanded "significant exemplary damages" in return.
The suit, which was roundly dismissed on three separate occasions after Davis appealed all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, centered on a series of "libelous and defamatory" articles about her candidacy, which, she alleged, were authored "with an intent to inflict emotional distress" and to deny her rights under the First Amendment.
The complaint itself was light on subtlety and nuance, arguing that the paper's conduct "was extreme and outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, as to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community." As a result of the paper's actions, Davis alleged, she had "suffered and is continuing to suffer damages to her mental health, her physical health, her right to pursue public offices in the past and in the future, and to her legal career" and deserved financial compensation.
Like Erickson, NRO failed to mention the role the Texas GOP played in pushing this 20 year-old non-story. Moreover, it ignores the fact that the suit follows basic pleading practice for this type of personal injury -- any plaintiff claiming IIED would file substantially similar boilerplate language with the court. In fact, plaintiffs who claim IIED must plead an almost identical variation of the "extreme and outrageous ... in a civilized community" phrasing that NRO quoted. This is the sort of thing covered in the first year of law school, or that can be easily discovered on Google. Elementary competence in writing legal complaints on the part of her lawyers doesn't make Davis "crazy or a liar," as Erickson erroneously claimed -- it makes her an average plaintiff.
Right-wing media have relentlessly attacked Davis, including going after her record on reproductive justice and referring to her as "Abortion Barbie." This latest smear based on her purported unsuitability for office due to alleged emotional distress in 1996 demonstrates that, at least in this case, their ignorance is catching up to their viciousness.
From the November 6 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Fox News host Megyn Kelly whitewashed Fox's transparent politicization of the Kermit Gosnell murder trial to frame it as an example of her network's commitment to provide "context to certain stories that you won't get elsewhere."
Kelly appeared on the October 13 edition of Fox's Media Buzz to discuss her new show, The Kelly File. During the segment, Kelly pushed back against the suggestion that "Fox News leans right," criticizing what she characterized as the "marching orders of media that we do believe leans left," and saying that viewers of her show would see different stories from what they would find in the mainstream media. She claimed that "what we do at Fox News is fair and balanced broadcasting" and held up Fox's coverage of the Kermit Gosnell trial as an example of the network's commitment to providing "context to certain stories that you won't get elsewhere" (emphasis added):
HOWARD KURTZ (host): What about the counter-notion that maybe as a counterweight that Fox News leans right. Does your show lean right?
KELLY: I don't think that's true. I think what we do at Fox News is fair and balanced broadcasting. And so, you know if you tune in to see my show at 9 pm, you're not going to see the same stories as you see on the front cover of The New York Times necessarily. You know, that's not what we get paid to do, is just follow the marching orders of media that we do believe leans left. That there's plenty of options if people want that. But Fox News gets paid for telling the full story, the complete story, and having both sides of the argument presented in a way.
KURTZ: But will I see more Republicans than Democrats?
KELLY: It depends on the night and the story. You know? I mean, hopefully no, over the course of a week or two, it will all balance out and you'll see both sides. And if you have a Republican you can always press them with the Democratic talking points and vice versa, so there's ways of presenting both sides even if you have more of one. But I think the thing that Fox also does is provide context to certain stories that you won't get elsewhere and to tell stories that won't get told elsewhere. I mean, the Gosnell abortion doctor story is one example that very few were covering aggressively until Fox News really picked it up. And that was a hard story to tell. But we did.
But Fox's coverage of the Gosnell trial is a strong example of the network's transparent politicization of a tragic case.