The rhetoric around the requirement that all insurance plans offer no co-pay birth control has become so heated, that President Barack Obama has been accused of bullying nuns.
It’s been a favorite talking point of the right ever since Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor gave a last minute injunction on a lawsuit by Little Sisters of the Poor asking that they be exempt from the birth control mandate. Of all the groups involved in the enjoined mandate, the Little Sisters are the ones most embraced in the social conservative echo chamber because, after all, who would want to harm nuns?
“Obama is bullying nuns!” declared Chuck Norris (no, really). “Quit bullying nuns!” agrees the Becket Fund, who is defending the non-profit in court. “Obama continues to bully Catholic nuns!” chimes in Kansas Republican Congressman Tim Huelskamp who, most ironically, has no issue with himself going to clinics and trying to bully patients out of having abortions.
The “bullying” meme is a purposefully crafted one, and no doubt the reason that it is the Little Sisters who are the face of the lawsuit, and not any of the other participants involved, such as Priests for Life. When the injunction was announced, the anti-abortion, anti-birth control religious non-profit touted on their website: ”Our lawsuit was among the very first ones in the country and the necessity to launch it shows that religious freedom in America is in grave danger. We have to take action.” Priests for Life sued the administration in February of 2012, then again in August of 2013. Little Sisters, on the other hand, didn’t sue until the end of September.
But pro-life priests obviously don’t have the same optics as strong-arming sweet little old ladies, which is no doubt why they have been set forth as the faces of religious liberty and victims of government oppression. Even when the entirety of that oppression is really just signing one slip of paper, a move that the administration says is actually an expression of religious freedom since it’s in essence nothing more than a public declaration of faith.
Besides the accusations of bullying, birth control opponents have managed to skew the media perception of the issue their way in other instances. Right wing pundits purposefully, repeatedly and mistakenly refer to emergency contraception as “abortion pills” and birth control pills as “abortifacients,” but even more disturbing is mainstream media’s refusal to clarify that birth control isn’t free, but rather no additional co-pay.
“Under the health care law, most health insurance plans have to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives as preventive care for women, free of cost to the patient,” writes the Associated Press earlier this week, in a remarkably misleading statement. In reality, contraceptives are covered by the insured person’s payment to the insurance company. It is as “free of cost” as a well child exam or any other benefit that insurance provides when you pay your monthly fee.
As for those nuns, as Jessica Mason Pieklo writes, they were never really in any sort of danger, be it via bullying or by having their religious freedom impugned. Mason Pieklo calls out the “hyperbolic hand-wringing by pundits over the Obama administration’s efforts to force nuns onto the pill. Add the fact that the nuns have absolutely nothing to lose in this case, and the crusade [to infinitely expand religious objections] becomes even more apparent.”
“Hyperbolic handwringing?” It’s almost as if the right wing has once more staged a massive media stunt to undermine the administration’s attempts to get high quality, affordable health care to the vast majority of Americans. In other words, it’s the return of “death panel” rhetoric, but this time, they’ve got the nuns as their media stars.
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