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.
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."
After the conservative justices gutted the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, right-wing media complained that criticisms of the legal challenge were overblown because other provisions of the VRA remain intact to fight voter suppression. But now some of those same right-wing media figures have begun to flip-flop on that position, arguing that another crucial component of the VRA is unconstitutional as well.
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."
As the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in the next big reproductive rights case, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, some of right-wing media's favorite talking points about women and sex have made their way into amicus briefs filed with the Court.
On March 25, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Hobby Lobby, a case that could allow secular, for-profit corporate employers to impose their religious beliefs about birth control on employees by blocking their right to obtain contraceptives on company insurance plans. A ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby would not only significantly impact the religious freedoms of employees who have no moral objection to preventive health services like birth control, it would have a sweeping effect on years of corporate law precedent. But that hasn't stopped conservative, religious, and anti-reproductive rights groups from filing amicus briefs with the Supreme Court in favor of Hobby Lobby's position, parroting arguments often heard in right-wing media.
In a recent article in Slate, legal expert Emily Bazelon detailed how many of these amicus briefs, filed largely by religious conservatives, voiced arguments from a bygone era when it comes to reproductive rights. Bazelon wrote, "If it sounds like I'm describing a 1960s enraged sermon about the pill, I guess that's the point[.] I could be":
The Supreme Court will soon hear Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, a case that could allow secular, for-profit corporations an unprecedented religious exemption from the Affordable Care Act's "contraception mandate," which requires all health insurance to cover preventive services like birth control without co-pays. A wide spectrum of scholars and experts have filed amicus briefs explaining that a ruling in favor of the corporate plaintiffs would not only rewrite First Amendment law, but also undermine decades of anti-discrimination and reproductive rights precedent.
Fox News continued its attacks on Debo Adegbile, President Obama's pick to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, and seemingly conflated the advocacy efforts of a different civil rights attorney with Adegbile's legal work as proof of his supposedly "radical" past.
On March 5, all Senate Republicans and a handful of Democrats voted to block Adegbile's nomination following a smear campaign against Adegbile's sterling legal record by leveling racially-charged attacks and linking him to the crimes of his former client, Mumia Abu-Jamal. As a top official at the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund (LDF), Adegbile and a team of lawyers were successful in overturning Abu-Jamal's death sentence due to constitutional error. Because of the unconstitutional sentencing, Abu-Jamal's punishment was ultimately commuted to a life sentence after prosecutors elected not to pursue the death penalty for a second time.
After the failed Senate confirmation vote, Fox News continued its debunked attack that Adegbile was a "cop killer's coddler" for representing Abu-Jamal. The network then introduced a new argument that Adegbile's criminal defense work was politicized and that he "crusaded" for Abu-Jamal, "revealing a bitter bias." Referencing "critics," and Fox contributor Jonah Goldberg, Bret Baier claimed that Adegbile "went beyond the legal work and it was more about political rallies and leading rallies for Mumia and kind of became more political in his support for this character." Fox News contributor J. Christian Adams went even further:
[Adegbile] was not nominated in spite of his defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal, he was nominated because of it. Because these folks think that Mumia was innocent. It is not just a question of giving somebody their day in court. Adegbile took on the wider cause, claiming America was unjust towards people of color. It was because of this rancid racial attitude that President Obama appointed him in the first place and that is why he is mad.
The Wall Street Journal trotted out well-worn myths, many provided by the conservative lobbying group the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to complain about the latest attack on class action lawsuits currently in front of the Supreme Court.
On March 5, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund, a case that could make it more difficult for a class of shareholder plaintiffs to file lawsuits against corporations who commit fraud. At issue in this case is the "fraud on the market" theory, which was established by the Court in a 1988 case called Basic v. Levinson. The fraud on the market theory unremarkably assumes that a company's stock price reflects the information publicly available about that company -- including any false statements made by the CEO or other corporate officer. The fraud on the market theory allows plaintiffs to form a class action and sue based on that fraud, which have artificially inflated the stock price.
The WSJ, for its part, would like the Court to overturn Basic and get rid of this highly effective method of protecting everyday Americans from corporate fraud.
In a March 6 editorial, the paper essentially repeated all of the Chamber's talking points it presented at its February 28 event dedicated to the Halliburton lawsuit, including the idea that the only beneficiaries of securities litigation are plaintiffs lawyers, and that these class actions unfairly punish shareholders.
Fox News treated itself to a victory lap after several Senate Democrats joined with the Republican conference and blocked the nomination of civil rights litigator Debo Adegbile, President Obama's highly-qualified pick to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ).
On March 5, the Senate procedural vote that would have allowed a confirmation vote on Adegbile's nomination failed, after right-wing media spent months lying about his background with racially charged attacks, even publishing an offensive caricature of Adegbile that was condemned by the nation's leading civil rights groups for invoking "the racist iconography of late 19th century America designed to dehumanize and stereotype African Americans." Outlets like Fox News continued to distort Adegbile's record in the run-up to the vote despite these denouncements, and despite the fact that Adegbile is a mainstream nominee who is regarded as one of the preeminent civil rights experts of his generation by a wide spectrum of authorities, including law enforcement executives and the American Bar Association.
After the vote, Fox host Bret Baier was quick to suggest that Senate Democrats who voted in favor of Adegbile could pay a penalty in the upcoming midterm elections. Baier went on to spread further misinformation about the nominee, falsely insinuating that he was part of an effort to overturn a murderer's conviction:
James O'Keefe, a right-wing performance artist known for his undercover videos that supposedly "expose" progressive "fraud," has released a new video falsely accusing conservative Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) of "excluding whites" from protection under his new Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA), a distortion of this bipartisan bill that has already been repeated in the National Review Online.
O'Keefe's new video shows him mysteriously dressed in camouflage, dancing to New Order's "Round and Round," and ultimately "confronting" Sensenbrenner at a town hall meeting about supposedly alarming anti-white language in the VRAA. Sensenbrenner, as he has in the past, began working on both sides of the aisle on this new VRA legislation last year, after the Supreme Court gutted crucial voter suppression protections in Shelby County v. Holder.
In the video, O'Keefe lectures Sensenbrenner on his own bill, claiming that "[i]n the legislation, it seems to contain language that explicitly removes white people from the protections of the Voting Rights Act." Sensenbrenner interrupts O'Keefe to correctly point out that the law "does not do that. There is nothing targeting people by race in the Voting Rights Act." O'Keefe eventually accuses Sensenbrenner of "doing the work of [U.S. Attorney General] Eric Holder and the race-hustlers with this language in the bill."
From the moment Debo Adegbile was nominated to the most recent smear in the Washington Examiner, right-wing media have made clear that their objection to President Obama's pick to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) is that he is one of the preeminent civil rights attorneys of his generation.
Paradoxical? Only if you believe in civil rights precedent and the idea that civil rights experts should be the ones bringing civil rights cases.
Right-wing media, apparently, believe in none of that.
Byron York's attempt in the Examiner to tenuously link Adegbile with guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was just another example of right-wing media's concern that Adegbile might do his job a little too well. Resorting to invoking right-wing media's favorite civil rights bogeyman of the long-established legal doctrine for establishing impermissible racial discrimination from unjustified racial effects, York accused Adegbile of "embrac[ing]" the EEOC's "crazy" use of disparate impact precedent. From the March 3 column:
It's not unusual for businesses to conduct a check before hiring new employees. If the check uncovers that the applicant has, say, a felony conviction in his past -- well, that can put a quick end to the application process.
But Obama's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that the use of background checks in hiring is racially discriminatory.
Hearing that, many employers might say: This is crazy. There are companies that will reject a job candidate because he posted something embarrassing on his Facebook page, and the Obama administration is warning businesses they'll be in trouble if they don't hire convicted felons?
Of course a business, after a background check, might well choose to hire a felon. But that is the employer's decision -- not the Obama administration's.
At the moment, EEOC "guidance" does not have the force of law, no matter the threats from top EEOC officials. That's where Debo Adegbile comes in. When he was with the NAACP, Adegbile praised the commission's guidelines. Now, if he becomes the assistant attorney general for civil rights, he will have the power to pursue the same or similar policies.
In written questions, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley asked Adegbile whether he would, if confirmed, "take action to abridge or eliminate an employer's ability to perform criminal background checks on potential employees." Adegbile embraced the EEOC position and suggested it would guide his own actions in the Justice Department. "If employers do perform background checks, the EEOC has released guidance on the subject," he told Grassley.
But York is stretching in this failed attempt to land a new hit on Adegbile.
"It's a situation basically directly out of a Kafka novel, and I can't think of anything more unjust."
That's how Lisa Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute of Legal Reform (ILR), framed the current state of securities class actions. When the Chamber talks, right-wing media listen -- which is why it matters when its representatives liken class action lawsuits to Kafkaesque hellscapes, worse than anything else in the world.
On February 28, the Chamber hosted "Erica P. John Fund & Beyond: The Past, Present, and Future of Securities Class Actions," an event where Chamber-selected panelists discussed the perils of the next big class action case before the Supreme Court, Halliburton Co v. Erica P. John Fund. At the heart of the case is the so-called "fraud on the market" theory, decades-old Supreme Court and legislative precedent that businesses interests are asking the conservative justices to overturn.
In contrast to significant coverage on CNN and MSNBC, a search of Fox News transcripts indicates the network has yet to address the recent desecration of a statue at The University of Mississippi which commemorates the integration of "Ole Miss," despite the network's previous attacks on desegregation law.
Earlier this month, a noose and a confederate flag were found on the Ole Miss campus, draped over a statue of James Meredith -- the first African-American student to enroll at the school. A group of white fraternity brothers are suspected in the vandalism, and the students could face federal hate crime charges. But a search of network transcripts on Nexis suggests that Fox has failed to report on the story at all -- despite having plenty to say in the past about "axing affirmative action" in favor of "color blindness."
Right-wing media's response to recent challenges to affirmative action policies -- most recently from Michigan and Texas -- has been to unequivocally support the gutting of these equal opportunity admissions policies, which have strengthened diversity on campuses for the benefit of everyone. In discussing affirmative action, right-wing outlets have been prone to favorably refer to conservative Chief Justice John Roberts' overly-simplistic suggestion that "the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race," when they weren't otherwise mangling the case law.
Lost in this conservative reporting is how a lack of diversity can lead to racial isolation for students of all colors and can contribute to racially-charged incidents of ignorance and hate on campus. Fox News, in particular, has had no qualms about misrepresenting the constitutionality of the diversity principle at the core of current affirmative action programs, which have been so crucial to ensuring that students and future leaders of color are not a rarity in the American educational experience. Their failure to report on the vandalism at Ole Miss unfortunately continues that trend.
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.