Looking Ahead to 2014, and New Objections to the Contraception Mandate

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Dr. Kenneth Edelin

Nuns sue to not sign paper

B.S. “states rights” argument

Limbaugh calls contraception “abortifacients”

Tucker Carlson treats filling out a form like it’s having war waged on you

Wishful thinking


On this episode of Reality Cast, Amanda Allen from the Center for Reproductive Rights will explain what to expect in 2014 in the States. A lawsuit exposes the true motivations behind the attacks on the contraception mandate and it looks like the Texas anti-abortion law is headed to the Supreme Court.

Dr. Kenneth Edelin was a hero to the reproductive rights movement, an African-American doctor who was unfairly and unconstitutionally convicted for manslaughter for performing an abortion. He went on to be an adamant doctor and activist for abortion rights. He passed away recently.

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That was from a tribute video made to celebrate his life from Planned Parenthood, which you can find online.


The conservative objections to the contraception mandate have reached a new level of ridiculousness. Not only are they now claiming that employers of any sort have a right to deprive employees of their own, earned insurance benefits because the employer doesn’t believe in them, but now a group of nuns is claiming that merely signing a piece of paper is so unbelievably burdensome that the entire contraception mandate needs to be thrown out.

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Look, I don’t think this group should get an exception in the first place. They hire people to do a job, which is run a nursing home, and performing that job has nothing to do with adhering to Catholic doctrine about contraception. Since the benefits belong to the employees, who earned it right alongside their paychecks, then it has nothing whatsoever to do with the nuns and their beliefs. Withholding the benefit makes as much sense as refusing to pay people because you worry they’ll buy condoms with their paycheck. But they’re not even refusing to offer the benefit! They’re just refusing to sign a piece of paper. I suspect the real purpose of the lawsuit it to get rid of the contraception mandate completely by making it such a legal morass to enforce that the only solution is to get rid of it. I cannot think of another instance where people claim it violates their religion to sign a form stating what their religion is so that they can get an exception to the law. Which is one reason why we shouldn’t be too worried that there’s been a temporary stay put on the law for these groups. It’s just until the case is decided, but I’m skeptical that they’ll be able to argue effectively that signing a piece of paper is too substantial a burden on their religion.

Indeed, it’s becoming quickly apparent that the entire “religious liberty” thing is just a fig leaf to attack the idea of enshrining contraception as a normal part of health care. That becomes obvious when Mitt Romney went on Fox News and tried to pretend that the contraception mandate is wrong because, uh, “states rights.”

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That’s a non sequitur, though it usually is when conservatives start blathering about “states rights.” If the contraception mandate really is somehow anti-religious freedom, then it would be whether in Massachusetts or in Texas. What’s going on here is that conservatives are just tossing every B.S. argument they can out against the contraception mandate, and don’t care how silly they sound. The point is to gin up furor over the contraception mandate in order to stigmatize contraception itself, with an eye towards chipping away at access to it as they chipped away access to abortion. How do I know this? Well, in part it’s because it’s become commonplace in right wing media to claim that contraception is abortion, which is a naked attempt to borrow the stigma they’ve already applied to abortion and apply it to contraception.

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Never mind that all insurance plans cover a bunch of stuff you don’t need and there’s no such thing as a tailor-made insurance plan that only covers exactly what you need. The fact of the matter is that the ACA does not and has never required plans to cover abortions, or as Limbaugh calls it, “abortifacients.” There’s a reason he used that term, by the way. It’s because it’s the new conservative word for drugs that prevent pregnancy by suppressing ovulation, and clearly offend conservatives both because they’re effective and they’re female-controlled. Conservatives claim, with no evidence whatsoever, that these pills actually work by killing fertilized eggs and use that as an excuse to characterize them as “abortion.” The obvious motive here is to stigmatize hormonal contraception to the point where it becomes politically easier to start restricting access to it. Which is why conservative commenters like Fox News’ Stephen Hayes try to claim the mandate covers “abortifacients” at every chance they get.

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He’s also lying with that “on our behalf” part, of course, because the point is that the insurance plans belong to the employees, which is why it’s not a big deal for insurance companies to provide contraception coverage directly without going through the employer’s health-care plan. But what I want to draw attention to is the repeated use of the word “abortifacient” to describe, no doubt, hormonal contraception that works by suppressing ovulation. Conservatives know from experience that repeating a lie long enough can make it seem more true, at least to the public. This is about stigma, and making it socially taboo to take the birth control pill.

Unsurprisingly, one of the favorite tactics of right-wing media is to pretend that the Obama administration is ganging up on helpless nuns.

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While Tucker Carlson would love to paint nuns as a bunch of childlike virgins who can’t be treated like full citizens under the law, the reality is this order is a group that hires people. They are employers, and they have to comply with employment law. They are also adult women. They are also not being asked to supply contraception. No one is, because this is about health insurance owned by employees. But they aren’t even being asked to provide health-care plans that cover it! They are being asked to sign a piece of paper. Being asked to sign a piece of paper stating your religious views to get an exception to the law is not being treated as an “enemy,” and it’s simply a lie to state otherwise.


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Well, one way or another, it looks like the new Texas law [HB 2] is headed to the Supreme Court and probably quite soon. After the Supreme Court allowed Texas to start enforcing its new law requiring doctors to have hospital admitting privileges to perform abortions, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals had a chance to hear the appeal itself.

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This is it, folks. After this, it’s going to the Supreme Court and there is almost no way the Supreme Court isn’t going to take the case. I know that for a couple of reasons. One, there’s been so many laws like this one passed around the country that the court pretty much has to weigh in at this point. Anti-choicers have this novel strategy of claiming that they’re passing these laws to protect women’s health, a risibly transparent claim when there is no doubt on any side of the issue that the laws are there to shut down abortion clinics so women can’t get abortions. With that novelty, there’s been conflicting cases in the courts that make it pretty much mandatory for the Supreme Court to figure it out. Two, it seems that the Fifth Circuit is almost sure to basically sign off on the idea that you can make Roe v. Wade meaningless by allowing states to pass disingenuous restrictions until legal abortion is impossible to get.

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As Rachel Maddow goes on to point out, the almost certain ruling in favor of Texas that’s about to come from the Fifth Circuit Court conflicts with what the federal appeals courts in other states have ruled on this issue. Which means there’s no way around it, the Supreme Court will have to weigh one court’s opinion against another and decide if, in fact, these kinds of laws are constitutional. If the Supreme Court decides to uphold Texas’ law, that means that other, similar laws in other states will start going into effect. The result will be the closing of probably hundreds of clinics around the country. This is bad, like really, really bad. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. The odds are highly likely that the entire fate of legal abortion rests on the shoulders of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who voted anti-abortion last time he had to cast a vote on the matter. I wish I had better news for you, but I don’t.

The one hope rests on the possibility that the naked intent behind these laws will cause Justice Kennedy to understand that they cannot be upheld at all while maintaining intellectual honesty.

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In a handful of clinics, nearby hospitals have been swift to help them out by giving the doctors admitting privileges that they know they will never need to use, because abortion is so safe. But, if this goes to the Supreme Court, they will have an opportunity to rule on more than the narrow question of admitting privileges. They’ll be able to craft general guidelines to tell states if a regulation is acceptable or not, and that might mean going so far as to allow them to pass any regulation they want, even if it’s just a transparent attempt to shut down abortion clinics while only pretending to be health-related. The sky could be the limit, honestly. It’s not that hard to imagine how to come up with all sorts of red tape that make providing abortion impossible while still saying it’s technically legal. Hopefully, it won’t come to that, but the day of reckoning is drawing near. I wish I could say otherwise, but them’s the facts.


And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, magical thinking edition. One reason Ken Cuccinelli lost his bid for governor of Virginia is that his extreme anti-choice agenda hurt him in the polls with female voters. But David Barton thinks the problem is Ken Cuccinelli wasn’t anti-choice enough.

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David Barton is a shameless liar is known for trying to pretend that the Founding Fathers were fundamentalist Christians and other such nonsense. But even by his standards, this is a massive whopper. I really do think he just made up that “analysis” he claims to have seen.