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.
Right-wing media stoked fears that the English language will soon disappear based on the decision by a Texas county school board not to renew the contract of a principal who reportedly mandated an English-only policy on campus. In fact, English-only policies have been found to discriminate against Latino immigrants and they fail to take into account that the majority of Latino immigrants speak fluent English.
Guinness announced that it will not participate in the New York City St. Patrick's Day parade due to the parade's exclusion of LGBT groups, prompting outrage and calls for boycott from right-wing media figures.
From the March 11 broadcast of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham claimed that undocumented immigrants under the Obama administration's deferred action program would have access to health care benefits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In fact, DACA recipients are ineligible to apply for subsidized health insurance.
During a town hall event with Spanish-language media on March 6, President Obama allayed fears within the immigrant community that information gathered about undocumented immigrant family members while signing up for health care would not be used for deportation enforcement. In the process, he stated that only U.S. citizens and those with "legal presence" would be able to apply for subsidized health care, noting that "it's true that the undocumented are not eligible -- that's how the law was written."
On her radio show, Ingraham distorted Obama's comments, claiming that "legal presence" applied to "anyone that he decides to defer immigration action on." She added: "The DREAMers can get Obamacare."
In fact, as the New York Times reported in September 2012, undocumented immigrants with lawful presence under DACA are not eligible for subsidized health care:
The White House has ruled that young immigrants who will be allowed to stay in the United States as part of a new federal policy will not be eligible for health insurance coverage under President Obama's health care overhaul.
The decision -- disclosed last month, to little notice -- has infuriated many advocates for Hispanic Americans and immigrants. They say the restrictions are at odds with Mr. Obama's recent praise of the young immigrants.
In June, the president announced that hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children, attended school here and met other requirements would be allowed to remain in the country without fear of deportation.
Immigrants granted such relief would ordinarily meet the definition of "lawfully present" residents, making them eligible for government subsidies to buy private insurance, a central part of the new health care law. But the administration issued a rule in late August that specifically excluded the young immigrants from the definition of "lawfully present."
At the same time, in a letter to state health officials, the administration said that young immigrants granted a reprieve from deportation "shall not be eligible" for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program. Administration officials said they viewed the immigration initiative and health coverage as separate matters.
Thanks to a 1995 California law however, about 73,000 DACA recipients who are 21 and under are reportedly eligible for the state-funded Medi-Cal program, which is completely separate from the ACA's Medicaid program.
Laura Ingraham attempted to tie a drag show fundraiser on a US military base to the problem of sexual assault in the military, suggesting that the drag show was part of an effort to "further sexualize" life on military bases.
On March 1, the Okinawa chapter of OutServe-SLDN held a fundraising event featuring six servicemembers - gay, lesbian, and heterosexual - lip syncing in drag. The event was a major success for the group, selling 400 tickets and receiving a warm reception by attendees.
The event has predictably drawn outrage from conservative commentators, including radio host Laura Ingraham. During the March 5 edition of The Laura Ingraham Show, Ingraham criticized the military for allowing "lewd" events like drag shows and questioned whether such events might anger "the Muslim world."
When a caller raised the issue of sexual assault in the military, Ingraham used the opportunity to suggest that military sexual assault might somehow be tied to attempts to "further sexualize bases":
INGRAHAM: Is it counterproductive to efforts to curb sexual assault on military bases to further sexualize the atmosphere on these bases? Is there any relation between the two issues? These are things we should talk about. It's not about demonizing anyone. I don't want to demonize any group of people. But this is a military. It is a fighting force. ... Above all else that is what they are charged with doing. And there's a military code of conduct that is different from civilian life. And they separate themselves from civilian life for a reason, because you need that discipline and you need that code and you need that respect for authority to hold it together on the battlefield. If you don't have that, if all the lines dissolve away, then we are less effective as a military force. That is a fact.
Ingraham isn't alone in suggesting that the drag show fundraiser is somehow related to military sexual assault. Far-right website WorldNetDaily, in an article about the fundraiser, similarly cited levels of male-on-male sexual assaults and tied them to broader acceptance of gay people in the military.
Radio host Laura Ingraham allowed Brad Dacus of the discredited Pacific Justice Institute to peddle long-debunked myths about a new California law allowing transgender students to use facilities and participate in programs that match their gender identities. Dacus' claims about the law's implementation fly in the face of how California officials are carrying the new policy out.
During the February 26 edition of The Laura Ingraham Show, Dacus continued his organization's pattern of lying in the service of undermining transgender protections. In October 2013, the organization invented a story about a transgender Colorado teen harassing her peers in the restroom. The Colorado lie came in the wake of a concerted right-wing media push to depict transgender rights as an assault on others' privacy in the restroom. On Ingraham's program, Dacus warned the law would allow students to declare a different gender from day to day if they wanted to, with boys securing access to the girls' restroom "for the thrill of it":
INGRAHAM: Do you have to declare your belief about what you think about your gender and that's set in stone, or can you change it day to day? I mean it gets very confusing for people, I think. ... How does it go?
DACUS: Yeah, the law allows them to change every day if they want. There's no requirement on --
INGRAHAM: That you declare, "OK, I want to use the male bathroom as a woman because that's the way I feel like I'm situated and that's the way, that's what I have to do to respect who I am." And you don't have to declare that and then that's it for the year. You have to -- you can just keep changing it.
School officials across California have debunked Dacus' claim. In interviews with Equality Matters, school district spokespersons stated that eligibility for the law would be determined on a case-by-case basis, with counselors and other professionals ensuring that a student's gender identity is consistent and persistent.
Some school districts - including Los Angeles Unified and San Francisco Unified - have had trans-affirmative policies in place for a decade and haven't experienced a single instance of inappropriate bathroom or locker room behavior.
"We don't let children [decide], 'I'm gonna be girl during P.E. and the rest of the day I'm going to be a boy," Los Angeles Unified's Judy Chiasson told Equality Matters.
From the February 11 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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Right-wing radio has been urging Speaker of the House John Boehner to back away from the immigration reform guidelines he had outlined last month -- this week he cowed to their demands, prompting The Wall Street Journal to highlight his fear of a talk-radio backlash.
Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham launched an ignorant smear against Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor, suggesting that she has to choose between her "immigrant family background" or the Constitution.
Ingraham's smear is both rooted in the premise that immigrants are separate from mainstream American culture and is completely off the mark given the fact that Sotomayor is an American citizen and the daughter of American citizens.
In a February 3 speech before Yale Law students, Sotomayor commented on the fact that she was the first Supreme Court Justice to use the term "undocumented immigrant," instead of "illegal alien," saying "[t]o call them illegal aliens seemed and does seem insulting to me."
Ingraham highlighted Sotomayor's comment on her radio show the following day. Ingraham suggested that using the term "undocumented immigrant" demonstrated a failure of Sotomayor's duty "to defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America." According to Ingraham, the word choice shows that Sotomayor's "allegiance obviously goes to her immigrant family background and not to the Constitution of the United States."
Sotomayor is a Puerto Rican American who is both an American citizen and the daughter of American citizens. Puerto Ricans have had U.S. citizenship since President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act in 1917. Ingraham's claim that Sotomayor's heritage somehow conflicts with her mission to uphold the Constitution is both baseless and nonsensical.
From the January 31 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham derided Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's plan to attract skilled immigrants to work and live in bankrupt Detroit, saying "we can then wall off Detroit" to keep those immigrants from moving to other parts of the country.
During a January 23 news conference, Snyder announced a plan to lure immigrants to Detroit by reportedly "seeking 50,000 work visas solely for the city over five years." As the Associated Press reported:
The type of visas involved are not currently allocated by region or state, but rather go to legal immigrants who have advanced degrees or show exceptional ability in certain fields.
Under the governor's unique proposal, one-quarter of the nation's 40,000 annual EB-2 visas would be designated for such immigrants willing to live and work for five years in Detroit -- a city amid the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history whose neighborhoods have been hollowed out by a long population decline.
"Let's send a message to the entire world: Detroit, Michigan, is open to the world," Snyder said during his news conference, which came a day after he backed plans to commit as much as $350 million in state funds to help shore up Detroit pension funds and prevent the sale of valuable city-owned art.
Under the plan, according to the AP, "Detroit would be allocated 5,000 visas in the first year, 10,000 each of the next three years and 15,000 in the fifth year."
On her radio show, Ingraham criticized the plan, asking, if immigrants move into the city, "is there going to be finally a border enforced in our country? Except it's going to be around Detroit?" From the show:
INGRAHAM: The people of this country, they're smart enough to know that they don't want to go anywhere near Detroit. Right? But we need to get these people from other countries to live and work in Detroit to save us because we can then wall off Detroit, apparently, so they can't then move to other parts of the country. Is that what Rick Snyder is gonna do? Is there gonna be, you know, is there gonna be finally a border enforced in our country? Except it's going to be around Detroit. This is the craziest thing I've ever heard of.
As of this month, Michigan's unemployment rate is higher than the national average at 8.4 percent. Its population has fallen from 1.8 million in the 1950s to 700,000 residents today. Michigan is reportedly "the one state in the nation to see its population drop" from 2000 to 2010.
From the January 23 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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Right-wing media responded to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) admission that his administration caused a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge as political payback with praise for the embattled governor and used Christie's response to pivot to criticisms of President Obama including invoking the phony Benghazi scandal.
From the January 9 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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