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Chris Weigant

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Contraceptive Debate Reporting Omits Important Voices

Posted: 02/ 8/2012 6:10 pm

The Obama administration recently ruled that churches and other religious organizations who provide health insurance to their workers at their non-church businesses must include free birth control, as indeed all health insurance plans are now required to do. This decision does not affect the churches themselves, but instead such satellite operations as hospitals and universities. The churches still have a "conscience clause" which allows them to choose not to provide contraceptives to church or other religious employees, and the new federal rule mirrors laws already on the books in 28 states. Even so, the new policy has engendered a huge debate from the pulpit, from politicians, and from the media. The real glaring omission from the media reports, however, is the lack of the voices of women who work for religious hospitals and universities -- in other words, those directly affected by the new rule.

Pro and con, the people I see being interviewed and otherwise weighing in on the debate are not the ones directly affected by it. I have no idea why this gaping hole in what should be a basic journalistic assignment exists, personally. As I've been watching the debate rage, I see a lot of older men debating women's sexual morals. I see a lot of celibate priests and bishops being interviewed. I see old, male lawmakers weighing in. To be fair, I also see a lot of women being interviewed, usually from either a pro or con advocacy group. I've even seen some doctors and health policy officials of both sexes offering up scientific reason and logical advice.

You know what I have yet to see either on television or in print? A poll of the workers affected. Maybe that's too tough a thing to ask for -- polls are time-consuming, after all, and the debate hasn't been raging all that long. But I have also yet to see in the media even a single woman interviewed who actually works for a religious hospital or university. Not a single "woman on the street" interview, not a single union representative who speaks for these women, not a single spokesperson for the women themselves. Not one. No nurses, no janitors, no administrators, no security guards... nothing.

American journalism has failed to answer a very basic question in this debate: what do those actually affected by this decision think about it? This is preposterous and shameful. Lefty media who support the Obama administration's decision (at least, the ones that I've seen) are no exception -- they haven't bothered to get out and question the people affected, either.

We hear from religious experts, morality experts, women's rights advocates, contraception advocates, legislators, politicians on the campaign trail, doctors, health insurance experts, and even sex experts -- all their voices are deemed valid and important to the debate. But, apparently, the affected women are simply somehow not valid or important to the debate, because nobody in the mainstream media has bothered to even make the attempt to find out what they think about the decision.

What can be done about this, other than griping about it in a blog post? I'm not entirely sure. Writing, emailing, and/or calling up your favorite media outlet and asking why they haven't bothered to find out and report this important information -- which is not just relevant but actually key to the debate -- might be a start. Feel free to forward this column to them, maybe it'll light a fire under some intrepid editor somewhere. It's certainly worth a try.

If the media were doing the job they're supposed to be doing, we would have those quotes and statistics by now. The fact that we don't speaks volumes about how the average person's voice can be completely drowned out in the public infotainment shouting match which passes for our political arena today.

It's really not all that hard to do. Send a reporter down to a university or hospital which would be affected. Station the reporter on a public sidewalk outside the organization, and randomly start asking people exiting the institution a few questions: "Excuse me, Ma'am, do you work for [organization name]? Can I ask you your opinion on whether you agree with the decision to provide you with health insurance which fully covers birth control, or whether you think such coverage should not be provided because [organization name] is run by [church name] who has religious beliefs that such coverage not be provided?"

It's called "journalism," and it ain't rocket science.

 

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