Fox News Suddenly Concerned About Religious Exemptions As Long As They Don't Involve Women's Health
Blog ››› ››› MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYS
Fox News host Megyn Kelly and senior political analyst Brit Hume were shocked by the suggestion that Arizona's anti-gay law might allow "a Christian doctor who is deeply conservative in his religious views to deny treatment" to patients on the basis of sexual orientation, an interesting change of pace for a network that has no problems regularly defending the religiously-based denial of women's health services.
In a February 25 segment on Fox's The Kelly File, Kelly and Hume agreed that the Arizona law -- which could provide legal protections to religious business owners who deny services and accommodations to gay couples on the basis of their sexual orientation -- went too far because the possibility of denying medical services to gay people was "an order of magnitude greater than the legal right to deny services to a gay wedding":
But neither Kelly nor Hume managed to point out the obvious -- Christian doctors are already enabled to deny services to all women on religious grounds.
In fact, last fall the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) after a Catholic hospital refused to adequately treat a pregnant woman who was suffering a miscarriage. That patient, Tamesha Means, was sent home from the hospital twice -- despite the fact that she was in pain, bleeding, and that her fetus had virtually no chance of surviving childbirth. Means suffered specifically because the doctors at the Catholic hospital where she was admitted refused to provide her with the help she needed for religious reasons. The USCCB explicitly prohibits its hospitals from providing "abortion services" or any other procedure that could facilitate or result in the termination of a pregnancy "before viability." Yet Hume still finds it "hard to imagine ... that anyone would want to deny treatment to someone" just because the patient's identity or medical needs are incompatible with the doctor's religion, even though conservatives have for years pushed laws allowing just that when the victim is a woman.
When it comes to women's health, Fox has frequently advocated for religious principles to trump access to medical care. The network has provided a platform for the religious owners of Hobby Lobby, a private, secular, for-profit corporation that is challenging the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate. The owners argue that they should be exempt from the mandate because they believe providing birth control to their employees violates their Christian faith. Fox has also supported a group of nuns who are fighting that same mandate because the nuns believe facilitating access to contraceptives violates their Catholic faith. The Arizona law both Kelly and Hume find so worrisome is an extension of the very same "religious freedom" law at the base of these lawsuits, the target of the discrimination is just different.
Fox News' internal inconsistency when it comes to deciding who's allowed to discriminate against whom, really misses the larger point -- that laws like the one proposed in Arizona are less about religious freedom and more about the unfair imposition of select religious values on society at large. Even Kelly points out that the Arizona law may be an "overreaction" by religious conservatives "who feel under attack." Hopefully Fox News can bring their newfound realization of the dangers of broad religious exemptions to generally applicable laws into their coverage of the Hobby Lobby case, currently scheduled for oral argument before the Supreme Court on March 25. Laws like Arizona's anti-gay bill and the Hobby Lobby challenge are part and parcel of the same attempt to codify not "religious freedom" but what Paul Waldman at the American Prospect calls a new "Citizenship Platinum":
Ask a conservative Christian about the President of the United States, and you're likely to hear that Barack Obama has been waging a "war on religion" since pretty much the moment he took office in 2009. As laughable as the assertion may be, there's little doubt that many have come to believe it, spurred on of course by opportunistic politicians and right-wing talk show hosts whose stock in trade is the creation of fear and resentment. In response, those conservative Christians have mounted a little war of their own, fought in the courts and state legislatures. The enemies include not just the Obama administration but gay people, women who want control of their own bodies, and an evolving modern morality that has left them behind.
In the process, they have made a rather spectacular claim, though not explicitly. What they seek is nothing short of a different definition of American citizenship granted only to highly religious people, and highly religious Christians in particular. They are demanding that our laws stake out for them a kind of Citizenship Platinum, allowing them an exemption from any law or obligation they'd prefer to disregard. They would refashion the First Amendment in their image.