If you want to use a historical metaphor to describe what has just happened, Pearl Harbor was attacked and now the side that received the first blow has responded with its own declaration of war.

That is, 43 organizations within the Roman Catholic Church (backed by some other denominations) have responded to an assault by filing suits in eight states and the District of Columbia.

Their goal is to overturn the administration’s “Obamacare” rule that church-related institutions must provide insurance coverage that pays not just for birth control (which is already cheap and available everywhere) but for pills and devices that abort unborn babies by preventing the implantation of fertilized embryos in the uterus.

Like Pearl Harbor, the administration’s attack on the Catholics’ fundamental beliefs was an utter surprise to its target.

President Obama had met with Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York months ago and promised him face-to-face that Catholic values would be protected under the new rules.

That was Obama’s equivalent to the Japanese ambassador in 1941 delivering a written declaration of war to the U.S. government hours after the bombs had started falling in Hawaii.

President Franklin Roosevelt responded with his “Day of Infamy” speech to Congress, which then declared war on our behalf.

Now, two U.S. archdioceses have joined other Catholic institutions (including the University of Notre Dame, where Obama gave an address last year) in suing to overturn rules issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, whose secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, purports to be a devout Catholic herself.

(That’s something for her church to determine, but actions do speak a whole lot louder than words.)

While the administration’s line is that the rule is all about “health care” (as if pregnancy were a disease instead of a normal part of life), the church and its allies clearly see that what is at stake are the religious freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.

That’s because, while the administration claims it exempts “religious institutions,” it defines them so narrowly that schools and Catholic-run hospitals and other charitable organizations are not exempt, even though they operate under the church’s authority and for the purposes it directs.

While the administration attempted to sell what it calls a “compromise” in which insurance companies would be required to finance the coverage, that didn’t satisfy the church, for two good reasons: (1) Insurers would undoubtedly pass the costs on indirectly via higher premiums, and (2) many Catholic institutions self-insure and thus would have to pay directly anyway.

In fact, the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio has dropped its student insurance, and others will follow if the lawsuits do not prevail.

Since the case is likely to end up in the Supreme Court, where a separate suit against Obamacare’s “individual mandate” is pending (and could make these suits moot if it succeeds in overturning the entire law), the Catholics’ challenge is highly significant, with wide-ranging implications for everyone’s religious freedom.

Which makes it very odd that ABC and NBC failed to even mention this on their evening newscasts the day the suits were filed, while CBS gave it only 19 seconds of air time.

That led L. Brent Bozell, who runs the Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group, to say the omission could not have been accidental and was clearly motivated by sympathy for Obama.

And he was emphatic about it: “This is the worst bias by omission I have seen in the quarter century history of the Media Research Center” he said.

“If this isn’t ‘news,’ then there’s no such thing as news. This should be leading newscasts and the subject of special, in-depth reports.

“Instead,” Bozell said, “these networks are sending a clear message to all Americans that the networks will go to any lengths — even censoring from the public an event of this historic magnitude — to prevent the release of any information that will hurt Obama’s chances of re-election. The so-called ‘news’ media have sunk to a new low. This is despicable.”

Meanwhile, in another interesting and arguably congruent news item, the Gallup organization reported its newest survey asking people if they consider themselves “pro-life” or “pro-choice.”

It found that only 41 percent of respondents were willing to be identified as “pro-choice,” the lowest number since polling on the question began 17 years ago.

The “pro-life” group was 50 percent, near its all-time high. While Gallup was quick to say that overall views on specific questions about abortion remained stable, the results continue to show that most Americans would be willing to ban some or even most abortions.

Only 28 percent say abortion should be legal “in all circumstances,” which is the present state of the law.

So, as the religious freedom argument progresses, so does the pro-life one.

One might think they were related.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer. He can be contacted at:

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