Among the many smears that the right-wing media have attempted to employ against President Obama is that he and his administration implement policies based on an anti-Catholic and anti-religion bias. On today's Fox & Friends, Fox legal analyst Peter Johnson Jr. took up this campaign to attack the president by suggesting that a recent decision by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to not exempt certain religious institutions from a mandate that health insurance plans cover contraception and women's reproductive health was due to Obama being anti-Catholic.
Johnson called the decision "a violation of the United States Constitution" and a "massive incursion into religious liberty" and claimed Catholics might ask, "Why is President Obama picking on us this way?" From Fox & Friends:
STEVE DOOCY (co-host): Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius defending the White House's decision to give religious organizations an extra year before they will be required to provide employees free birth control. She says, quote, "This strikes a balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventative services." But religious leaders say this forces them to violate their consciences. Peter Johnson Jr., Fox News legal analyst, joins us with this reaction to -- OK, so the Catholic Church is being told you got to provide contraceptives, sterilization, and Plan B.
JOHNSON: Yeah, President Obama, after meeting with the bishops and after speaking allegedly with Cardinal Designate [Timothy] Dolan, the new cardinal from New York, has said that the federal government is going to demand that Catholic universities, Catholic social service agencies, Catholic institutions other than churches provide drugs that induce abortions, provide sterilizations, provide contraceptions free, really in violation of Catholic faith and, really, other organizations and other religious organizations, it violates their faiths. Some orthodox Jewish organizations, some evangelical groups have also objected. So they are speaking up now and they're saying, listen, this is a massive incursion into religious liberty, because now the federal government is demanding that by August 1, 2013, these faith-based organizations provide drugs that will provide abortions. And sterilizations. And they say this violates our faith. So on one hand, you're saying, well, can we keep faith but can we keep adherence of the law, and you're asking us to choose.
DOOCY: You can't do both.
JOHNSON: Well, it's a violation of the United States Constitution, and there will be a whole raft of lawsuits based on this incursion. And in an election year, a lot of Catholic voters are going to say why is the federal government doing this to us? Why is President Obama picking on us in this way? And I happen to be a Catholic.
Fox is not the only right-wing media outlet to take up this smear. WorldNetDaily posted a Business Insider brief on the regulations under the headline, "Obama Postpones Anti-Catholic Rule." National Review Online called the decision an "assault on the Constitution and the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty."
As usual, the decision is far more complex than Fox would have you believe. In August 2011, HHS issued regulations mandating that new health insurance plans "cover women's preventive services such as well-woman visits, breastfeeding support, domestic violence screening, and contraception without charging a co-payment, co-insurance or a deductible." After debating religious concerns, last Friday, HHS clarified that the regulations do exempt religious institutions, but do not exempt religiously affiliated groups that employ members of differing faiths. But the regulations are not an attempt by the administration to attack Catholics; they're intended to rectify discrimination that has existed in the health insurance industry for decades.
In 2000, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found "reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occured [sic] under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, in two charges challenging the exclusion of prescription contraceptives from a health insurance plan." The EEOC went on to conclude that health plans "must cover the expenses of prescription contraceptives to the same extent, and on the same terms, that they cover the expenses of the types of drugs, devices, and preventive care identified above." Further, health experts agree that ending discrimination against women's reproductive health in insurance plans "averts maternal morbidity and mortality, improves child health and yields important economic benefits to society."
In addition, Johnson's claim that ending contraception discrimination is a violation of Catholic's conscience ignores the fact that, according to a 2009 poll conducted for Catholics for Choice, 63 percent of American Catholics said that health insurance policies -- whether they are private or government -- should cover ... contraception, such as birth control pills."