Soledad O’Brien Pushes Back On ‘Religious Liberty’ But Lets Abortion Pill Lie Slip Through


On Tuesday morning’s Starting Point, host Soledad O’Brien led yet another discussion of the Obama administration’s decision to give non-church religious employers one year to comply with the Preventive Services Mandate, which some claim is an “attack on religious liberty.”

O’Brien did a good job of challenging that false premise, but allowed guest Rep. Marcia Blackburn (R-TN) to slip in the lie that the mandate covers the “abortion pill.”

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Ms. O’Brien repeatedly pressed Rep. Blackburn to explain how the administration’s decision had anything to do with religious liberty. In responding, Rep. Blackburn inserted a popular lie about the mandate, one which the media has been slow to correct.

“It is about forcing employers to provide things that go against their religious beliefs,” Rep. Blackburn said. “And when you have individuals that go to church on Sunday and put money in the offering plate, they need to be assured that that money is not going to go and pay for contraception items, for abortion pills. And this mandate covers all FDA-approved medications.”

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The “abortion pill,” RU-486, is not covered by the mandate, of course, but Rep. Blackburn was likely trying to conflate emergency contraception with the abortion pill. They are not the same thing, so while some religions may promote that idea as an article of faith, it is a medical fact that they are not the same. Emergency contraception prevents pregnancy from occurring, and is for use long before a pregnancy is even possible.

O’Brien’s other guest, the ACLU’s Louise Melling, explained why the mandate does not infringe on religious liberty. “This respects religious liberty,” Melling said. “Churches don’t have to provide contraceptive coverage as part of their package. What this rule says is institutions like hospitals and charities and schools that open their doors to the public, serve primarily the public, don’t have a primary purpose of religion, have to offer the same insurance everybody else does. 98% of American women use contraception, including Catholics. This say it is you serve the public, you play by public rules.”

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The “religious liberty” argument has even gained traction among Democrats, partially because the Obama administration, and even people like Ms. Melling, have failed to make the simple, essential argument that this decision is about equal protection under the law for women. The Preventive Services Mandate itself is about achieving parity for women’s preventive health services with everyone else’s, and the decision about the “conscience exemption” is about extending that protection to women who work in institutions that serve the general public, religious or not.

While I disagree strongly with most of what he says about this, Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough deserves a bit of credit for pointing out, this morning, that the Preventive Services Mandate doesn’t cover abortion services of any kind, and I’d even tend to agree that the administration did a poor job of rolling this out. By letting it just sort of pop out and lie there, shivering, the administration has allowed the measure’s critics to control the discussion, so that even when they do a good job of defending the decision, the best they can do is convince people they’re not infringing on religious liberty. There’s a bumper sticker.

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They should have announced this decision with a strong statement about equal protection, and about protecting women from having their employer’s religious beliefs imposed on them. Instead of answering questions like “Why should Catholic hospitals provide contraceptive coverage?” the media could, and should, be asking “Why should a woman be denied the same rights as others, just because she works at a Catholic hospital?”

Here’s the clip, from CNN’s Starting Point:

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