Another conservative crusade against a phantom enemy

Forget the Fairness Doctrine -- what about the Freedom of Choice Act that pro-abortion liberals will pass any day now?

By Alex Koppelman

Published February 19, 2009 6:05PM (EST)

On Wednesday, a spokesman for President Obama broke the news to the right as gently as possible: The president doesn't want to see the Fairness Doctrine reinstated. This revelation might have come as a shock to some conservatives, who've been told over and over recently that liberals were planning to shut down people like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity by bringing back the old FCC rule, which mandated equal time for opposing viewpoints on the public airwaves.

Of course, for conservatives to have been surprised by that news, they'd have to hear about it, and some outlets that have been beating the Fairness Doctrine drum for a while now just plain ignored the story. WorldNetDaily ran an article about radio host Michael Savage gearing up for a legal battle once the rule makes its return, while Human Events had one piece headlined "Listen Up, While You Still Can."

Fortunately, I'm not the only one who's frustrated by seeing various activist groups and publications try to line their coffers by using a non-existent enemy to fleece people. Time's Amy Sullivan is similarly frustrated by the campaign against the Freedom of Choice Act, and she has a really interesting article on it, one she jokingly suggests could be headlined "Why I Don't Want to Hear Another Word About FOCA."

Sullivan writes:

The U.S. Catholic Church's crusade against the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) has all the hallmarks of a well-oiled lobbying campaign... There is only one hitch. Congress isn't about to pass the Freedom of Choice Act because no such bill has been introduced...

The campaign against FOCA, which would essentially codify the Roe v. Wade decision by saying the government can't place limits on abortions performed before viability, began shortly after Barack Obama's election in November, at the annual general meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). In a unanimous decision, the bishops voted "to mobilize the resources of the USCCB, dioceses and the entire Catholic community" to oppose the Freedom of Choice Act...

A Freedom of Choice Act was first introduced in the 108th and 110th Congresses (from '03 to '05 and '07 to '09, respectively), by Rep. Jerold Nadler, a New York Democrat. It was developed at a time when the future of Roe was in doubt because it was unclear if George W. Bush would have the opportunity to appoint another justice to the Supreme Court. But FOCA had a hard time gaining traction -- even under Democratic control of Congress, the bill was not only never voted on but never made it out of committee. And now abortion rights advocates are breathing easier with Obama in the White House -- so much so that when a coalition of 63 organizations sent the Administration its top 15 priorities for reproductive rights and health, FOCA did not even make the list...

James Salt, director of organizing for the progressive organization Catholics United, thinks the USCCB has been prodded into focusing on FOCA by misinformation from right-wing groups. "These right-wing organizations are deliberatively misleading people in order to stoke the culture war," says Salt. "They're using this as a fundraising tool, as a way to gin up their relevancy. And unfortunately some of these groups have the ear of certain bishops."

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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