BLOGMedia Reactions to HHS Changes Reflect a Bigger Problem than Just Bad Reporting

By Michael Farris, Jr. Posted on: | January 30, 2018

The Department of Health and Human Services recently recommitted itself to protecting conscience and the religious freedom of medical professionals by reinforcing rules that were ignored during the Obama Administration and creating the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the Office for Civil Rights.

These are positive steps in light of the upcoming Supreme Court case National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra in which Alliance Defending Freedom is defending pro-life pregnancy centers in California, where they are forced by law to advertise for the abortion industry.

While many are praising the HHS decisions, alarming reactions from prominent media outlets mirror the State of California’s attitude toward pro-life medical professionals: the attitude that constitutional protections are reserved for preferred viewpoints of the day and don’t apply to anyone who disagrees.

A piece published by The Atlantic outlines the changes at the HHS, and takes a more measured approach to the story than a later example we’ll see. But, nonetheless, it does rely heavily on hypotheticals and thinly-connected anecdotes to warn of the dangers of following laws that have been in place since shortly after Roe v. Wade.

The article insists that these laws are flawed because they don’t force doctors with religious or moral objections to abortion to provide free advertising for abortion. But this alleged “flaw” is nothing more than the government’s respect for the constitutional rights of prolife doctors. 

The author of the article quotes biased “reproductive-rights groups” for evidence of the “dangers” of laws respecting conscience. And the overall content and tone of the article suggest the erroneous and unproven conclusion that there are pitfalls in allowing people to live out their religious or moral convictions.

The following examples are not only a more blatant bias against religious medical professionals but also a case study in plain bad journalism.

Politico first reported on the upcoming changes at HHS and dropped this bomb within the body of the article: “So-called conscience protections have been politically controversial since shortly after Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973.”

Former ADF attorney Casey Mattox brilliantly dismantled this statement in a piece for The Federalist. In the article, Mattox outlines how conscience protections have had bipartisan support for decades and labeling them “so-called” and “controversial” is baseless political spin.

Not to be deterred, Politico published another piece a few days later that charges HHS officials with allegedly taking steps to “weaken” federal law through their efforts to protect conscience rights. But the truth is that those officials are simply following laws that received broad bi-partisan support when enacted. The only “weakening” of federal law that occurred was the undoing of unlawful policies that the prior administration had put into place. The author shows no attempt to report the story objectively and relies heavily on “more than a dozen current and former HHS staffers, who requested anonymity to speak freely . . .”

That article elicited a response from the National Review’s David French. He points out everything the Obama Administration did to violate existing laws that protect conscience and religious freedoms. Those violations got to the point where a federal judge halted enforcement of an Obama Administration rule because it “contradict[ed] existing law” and “likely violate[d] the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” A fact, French points out, that is entirely missing from the Politico article.

The message of many left-leaning journalists and politicos (pun intended) is clear: It doesn’t matter if your religion prohibits you from ending life in the womb; abortion demands must outweigh your conscience rights.

The disregard for constitutional freedom exhibited by these media publications and the State of California in the NIFLA v. Becerra case is why Alliance Defending Freedom exists. You can help us with your continued support and prayers on behalf of clients like Jack Phillips and NIFLA. Together, we can maintain our constitutionally protected freedoms . . . and remind many in the media that those freedoms still exist – and that they benefit us all.

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Michael Farris, Jr.

Legal Content Manager

Michael Farris, Jr., serves as Legal Content Manager for Alliance Defending Freedom and is a Virginia-born Idaho convert.

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