An old anti-Catholic device

anticath 01It's an old anti-Catholic journalistic device. A reporter writes about a controversial cultural issue such as contraception or abortion. Opponents are identified by their religious denomination. Supporters are not. The lesson for readers is plain: opponents are motivated by religious zeal, while supporters are motivated by humanitarianism and sweet reason.

Plenty of otherwise great journalists have committed this journalistic sin. In the late 1960s, Sydney Schanberg of The New York Times wrote about legislation to liberalize the state of New York's abortion laws. Schanberg's stories invariably referred to abortion opponents as Catholics, while abortion supporters were never identified by their religious background or lack thereof.

Now reporter Rob Stein of The Washington Post adds his name to this illustrious list.

Stein wrote about pharmacy stores that refuse to stock contraceptives. The first third of his story was largely unexceptional. He told readers about the controversy over conscience clauses: individual pharmacists assert a right to refuse to sell contraceptives for moral or religious reasons, while some ethicists and professional groups assert that the health concerns of patients trump an individual's conscience. He also let both sides make their case.

But in the middle third of the story, Stein identified opponents by their religious affiliation while not identifying supporters by the same. Here is one example:

"We try to practice pharmacy in a way that we feel is best to help our community and promote healthy lifestyles," said Lloyd Duplantis, who owns Lloyd's Remedies in Gray, La., and is a deacon in his Catholic church. "After researching the science behind steroidal contraceptives, I decided they could hurt the woman and possibly hurt her unborn child. I decided to opt out."

Some critics question how such pharmacies justify carrying drugs, such as Viagra, for male reproductive issues, but not those for women.

"Why do you care about the sexual health of men but not women?" asked Anita L. Nelson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "If he gets his Viagra, why can't she get her contraception?"

Lest you think I complain too much, here is another example:

The DMC Pharmacy opening in August marks an expansion by Divine Mercy Care in Fairfax, a nonprofit health-care organization that adheres to the teachings of the Catholic Church. The group runs the Tepeyac Family Center, an obstetrics-gynecology practice in Fairfax that offers "natural family planning" instead of contraceptives, sterilization or abortion.

"We're trying not to leave our faith at the door," said John Bruchalski, who chairs the group's board of directors, noting that one of the organization's major goals is helping needy, uninsured patients obtain health care. "We're trying to create an environment where belief and professionalism come together."

Like the doctors, nurses and other staff members at Tepeyac, Robert Semler, the pharmacist who will run DMC Pharmacy, plans to start each workday with a prayer with his staff, which at first will just be his wife, Pam, a nurse.

And then there is this:

"If you are a health-care professional, you are bound by professional obligations," said Nancy Berlinger, deputy director of the Hastings Center, a bioethics think tank in Garrison, N.Y. "You can't say you won't do part of that profession."

This is not fair or balanced. It's political. Stein is leaving readers with a subtle but unmistakable message: Duplantis and Semler seek to impose their Catholic morality on others, while Nelson and Berlinger are operating from altruism.

Now maybe Duplantis and Semler volunteered their religious affiliation. In that case, I think that Stein needed to relay this information to readers. He would have shown that he was seeking to be objective and fair.

Suppose Duplantis and Semler did not volunteer the information. In that case, Stein was obligated to record whether Nelson and Berlinger said their views were influenced by their religious views or lack of same. That's just an issue of fairness.

Some GR readers may believe that my assessment of Stein's story is uncharitable. But does he deserve the benefit of the doubt? I don't know. Whatever the case, reporters have used this anti-Catholic and anti-religious canard for decades. It's time to retire it.

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