The abortion rights group Catholics for Choice published an ad this week online and in major newspapers (and also the St. Louis Post Dispatch) on the current controversy over President Obama’s proposal to require religious institutions to provide free contraception for their employees even if doing so violated the institutions’ fundamental religious tenets. The ad (reproduced below left) sought to isolate the Roman Catholic bishops who opposed the move by characterizing their position as overwhelmingly opposed by rank and file Catholics.
The ad is deceptive and dishonest on a number of fronts. The ad illustrates 98% support for birth control in general, but uses bishop symbols to characterize the other 2%, in a deliberate attempt to confuse readers into thinking that only 2% support the bishops’ opposition to Obama’s plan. The claim is based on undocumented claims by a Planned Parenthood affiliate that 98% of sexually active women have used birth control at some point in their lives. Having used birth control (even once) any time in a woman’s life is not the same as favoring it today, and is a far cry from thrusting the policy down the throat of a religion or organization that opposes the practice on principle.
In contrast, a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that only 49% of Americans (52% of Catholics) believe that religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception or birth control at no cost (i.e., the Obama position), with 46% (not 2%) opposed. However, a majority of Catholic voters (52% to 45%) oppose the policy. In addition, the same poll found broad support to exempt religious institutions from Obama’s policy. In that context, only 36% of Americans say that churches should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception or birth control at no cost, with 57% (including 59% of Catholics and 68% of Catholic voters) opposed (i.e., favoring religious exemption).
A poll commissioned by Administration cheerleaders CBS and the New York Times predictably showed greater support for the President’s policy, but nowhere near the 98-2 split touted by the rogue Catholic ad. The Times reported 59% support for requiring the health insurance plans of religiously affiliated employers to cover the cost of birth control, and did not bother to mention the companion figure for opposition. As one would naturally expect for a result-oriented push poll such as this, it did not pose the alternative question focusing on religious exemption. The CBS/NYT poll tracked Catholic respondents separately (with a 7 point margin of error), but the Times did not reveal those numbers.
The focus on birth control instead of abortion is part of Campaign Obama’s strategy to shift attention away from abortion (where Obama is at odds with most Americans) to the straw man of birth control, which has greater support (h/t Dick Morris). In lock step with Democrat talking points and strategy, Catholics for Choice frames the issue as support vs. opposition for birth control instead of the real issue, support or opposition to religious freedom.
Beyond the deceptive use of the data, Catholics for Choice went for more sinister subliminal messages. The ad contrasts 98 icons of women against 2 icons of a bishop’s hat. The intended inaccurate impression was to pit the Catholic bishops against Catholic women and to infer that the only people opposing the birth control policy are Catholic bishops. Both of those impressions are blatantly untrue.
Furthermore, the ad conveys another impression that inadvertently exposes the group’s underlying attitude: Men (or at least lay men) don’t count. The ad divides the 100% universe solely between women and bishops. Other men just don’t matter.