After the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 30th ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby sparked a backlash from abortion-rights advocates, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly went toe-to-toe with Patricia Ireland, the former president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and a stalwart supporter of Roe v. Wade.

NOW had placed Hobby Lobby, along with the Little Sisters of the Poor, on its “Dirty 100” list of employers who were accused of “using religion to justify discrimination, deny women’s equality.”
Kelly asked Ireland why NOW labeled the Little Sisters of the Poor and other HHS plaintiffs “dirty” — rather than simply identifying them as “groups with whom we disagree.”

“The dirty trick is that they are trying to take their religious beliefs and impose them on their employees,” said Ireland, who insisted the Little Sisters could just “opt out” and let their health-insurance carrier provide the mandated services.

Clearly exasperated, Kelly countered, “They’re nuns. Are you Catholic? I am. We follow rules. It is not a religion for wusses. And the Little Sisters of the Poor know that.”

Supporters of the Hobby Lobby ruling, however, might suggest those who misrepresent the substance and impact of the ruling itself with the suggestion that it effectively blocks women’s access to contraception are the ones playing a “dirty trick,” not the Little Sisters.

The fact checker for The Washington Post responded to the broad misrepresentation of the high court’s ruling with a lengthy column responding to a series of hysterical statements by assorted Democratic lawmakers: “Democrats need to be more careful in their language about the ruling. All too often, lawmakers leap to conclusions that are not warranted by the facts at hand. Simply put, the court ruling does not outlaw contraceptives, does not allow bosses to prevent women from seeking birth control and does not take away a person’s religious freedom.”

No matter. The partisan fury on Capitol Hill still produced a Senate bill, signed by 35 Democrats, that sought to modify the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the 1993 federal law that served as the basis of the decision upholding Hobby Lobby’s free-exercise rights, so that objecting for-profit employers would be forced to fully comply with the mandate.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a lead sponsor of the bill — entitled the Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act of 2014 — said it would “stop employers from being able to impose their religious beliefs on their employees.”

Despite the uproar, however, the newly crafted legislation, which received backing from the White House and Planned Parenthood, failed to get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate. The reason for the bill’s short life may have something to do with the fact that, in a tough election year, lawmakers must acknowledge the fact that many Americans, women included, do not believe that a legal decision that upholds the free-exercise rights of deeply religious employers constitutes an assault on one-half of the adult population in the United States.

The truth is: There is no war on women here. Rather, there is an assertion that newly established sexual rights should take precedence over America’s long-held commitment to religious freedom as the “first freedom.” Embedded in this first assertion is a second, disguised premise: State power must usurp the right of civil institutions like the Church to operate in the public square with minimal government interference.

“Americans believe strongly that we should be able to practice our religion without undue interference from the government,” stated Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Deb Fischer, R-Neb., in a July 16 column in The Wall Street Journal that attacked partisan attempts to distort the ruling and its impact.

If you accept Patricia Ireland’s implicit suggestion that American women have adopted a monolithic position on such matters, Ayotte and Fischer’s stance will seem puzzling, even shocking.

In fact, these two female senators offer much-needed clarity on what the ruling does and doesn’t do. Quoting the majority opinion, they stress, for example, that it does not “provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.”

More important, they, and others who share their convictions, offer a more expansive vision of the common good that transcends individual self-interest. They don’t believe that the allure of free contraception justifies the violation of basic civil rights.

Many American women take a similar position. A Gallup poll conducted in May found that the country was evenly divided on such issues. Thus, while Emily’s List, the political action group that backs female candidates who support abortion rights, used the Hobby Lobby decision to raise funds from its constituents, The Wall Street Journal reported that the group sponsored an ad campaign for approved candidates in Southern red states focusing on economic issues, not abortion. The reason is simple enough: Southern women are more pro-life, and Emily’s List, despite its general insistence that women want and need abortion, developed a strategy that responded to that fact.

So we should not be surprised that the Little Sisters of the Poor made the National Organization for Women’s “Dirty 100” list. For decades, politics has been used to shield the truth of things. Old-line feminists like Ireland, for example, have long insisted that pro-life legislation hurts women, while deflecting attention from the harm that abortion inflicts on women.

“While it may seem shocking that a group that purports to stand for women would attack a group of … loving and selfless women to gain political points, if anything, it reveals the reality proponents of the HHS mandate have been trying to cover up for the last several years,” said Ashley McGuire of The Catholic Association in a July 11 essay for The Federalist, which noted the prominent role of women lawyers, businesses owners and women religious backing free-exercise rights. “Women are loud opponents to the HHS mandate and vocal supporters of religious liberty.”

Let’s keep it that way.