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Working hard to avoid religious freedom

Last week, the New York Times published a poll showing serious declines in support for President Obama. The story mentioned that the poll showed female Republican primary voters were supporting Rick Santorum. The story also claimed that "women were split as to whether health insurance plans should cover the costs of birth control and whether employers with religious objections should be able to opt out." Worded one way, slightly more women supported religious freedom from the birth control mandate than opposed it. Worded another way, it was more like 53 percent of women favored allowing Catholic hospitals to opt out of the mandate compared to 38 percent opposed.

Yesterday's story is headlined "Romneys Court Women Put Off by Birth Control Issue." You might expect that the story is about the Romney family courting women put off by birth control. But the story isn't about that. It's weird to see a headline that is completely unsubstantiated by the text of the story.

In general, substantiation seems to be a weak area for this story. Early on we are told:

The Romney campaign is seeking to repair the political damage with women voters that advisers acknowledge has been inflicted by the Republican nominating fight.

In February, women were evenly divided between Mr. Romney and his chief rival, Rick Santorum. But in the most recent New York Times/CBS News national poll, among Republican primary voters, 41 percent of women backed Mr. Santorum and 27 percent favored Mr. Romney.

Mr. Romney is often introduced by his wife at political events, but her role has taken on greater meaning as the campaign looks ahead to independent voters, particularly women, who polls show have been put off by the candidates’ rightward shift on immigration and social issues.

The advisers aren't named but the problem is that Santorum is appealing to women. Women who are, as the headline says, "put off by birth control issue"? Wait, what is the strategy?

You realize that the paper is trying really hard to suggest - without being specific in any way -- that women are, in fact, put off by the birth control issue. Or the completely vague and unspecified "social issues" mentioned in the third paragraph there.

But if you're looking for any substantiation for this, you will not find any. This might have something to do with what I mentioned at the top of this post -- the New York Times' own poll doesn't support the idea that women are turned off by religious freedom.

The story adds:

While women are hardly monolithic in their politics, the Romney campaign is urgently trying to shift the conversation back to the economy from more divisive social issues.

Nice of the reporter to mention that not all women think alike. Although it is odd that the actual results from the New York Times poll that show women favor religious freedom still haven't made it into any story at the paper there. Super odd.

This story also gives the impression that Mitt Romney is not strong on religious liberty. In fact, here is what he's said about that religious freedom issue referenced (or not referenced, as it were) in the New York Times headline. This is from a late February debate where each of the Republican candidates went off on a horribly worded question from CNN moderator John King:

“John, what’s happened — and you recall back in the debate that we had George Stephanopoulos talking out about birth control, we wondered why in the world did contraception — and it’s like, why is he going there? Well, we found out when Barack Obama continued his attack on religious conscience,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve seen in the history of this country the kind of attack on religious conscience, religious freedom, religious tolerance that we’ve seen under Barack Obama.”

“Most recently… requiring the Catholic Church to provide for its employees and its various enterprises health care insurance that would include birth control, sterilization and the morning-after pill. Unbelievable,” Romney continued. “And he retried to retreat from that but he retreated in a way that was not appropriate, because these insurance companies now have to provide these same things and obviously the Catholic Church will end up paying for them. But don’t forget the decision just before this, where he said the government — not a church, but the government should have the right to determine who a church’s ministers are for the purposes of determining whether they’re exempt from EEOC or from workforce laws or labor laws. He said the government should make that choice. That went all the way to the Supreme Court. There are a few liberals on the Supreme Court. They voted 9-0 against President Obama.”

Romney continued, “His position on religious tolerance, on religious conscience is clear, and it’s one of the reasons the people in this country are saying we want to have a president who will stand up and fight for the rights under our Constitution, our first right, which is for freedom of religion.”

Now, a story could have fleshed out why even such vehement pronouncements from Romney aren't winning over Republican voters. But this story does none of that. It doesn't describe how his views differ from Santorum's on the issue of religious freedom and the HHS mandate that requires people to fund abortion drugs and other services that violate their doctrine. It doesn't begin to describe why some people might favor Santorum's take on these things. And so it makes it very confusing as to why, much less how, Romney is trying to reach this group of women who, we're told from on high, are turned off by "birth control" according to nameless surveys.

It's just a hot mess.

Oh, and religious freedom -- the big ghost here -- isn't mentioned at all.

Which reminds me. Has anyone seen any good -- or bad -- advance coverage of the 120 religious freedom rallies planned for cities across the country this Friday? We've had readers ask us why there's been so little coverage. We've seen some coverage of Saturday's atheist rally, termed "massive" by some media outlets, including at USA Today and the Washington Post's "On Faith" blog. The USA Today piece, by the way, is great. Very nicely balanced with quotes from interested parties and critics.

Romneys photo via Wikipedia.

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