A reader quotes me:
I hope at least some liberals grasp that being required to finance something you believe to be murder is a legitimate area of conscientious objection.
Alito’s opinion said that the alternative was to let the government pay for this coverage. What’s to stop Hobby Lobby from embracing your argument and saying “Hey wait a minute! What’s the difference between us paying for this directly through the health insurance that we had been forced to buy, and now having to pay for it indirectly through taxes?” Yes, Alito said that was an exception, but how soon will it be before that is overturned? We’re talking nuclear minefield!
No we’re not. The argument against Hobby Lobby would then be quite simple: you can no more object to your taxpayers’ money going to health insurance subsidies than pacifists can with their tax dollars going to the Pentagon (a point Alito explicitly made on page 47). And look: until the ACA, there was no government subsidy for contraception. Now there is – with a few religious exemptions. It’s had to see how the change over the last few years isn’t a big victory for liberals, with a small silver lining for religious conservatives. So take a deep breath and get some perspective. Another reader also finds my argument “specious”:
At what point does religious belief trump scientific fact and understanding? The science, with about the same level of agreement as on climate change, says that none of these forms of contraception cause fertilized eggs to fail to implant or prevents implantation. The belief that these types of contraception are also abortifacients is based on old hypotheses that have pretty much been disproved. Those hypotheses though lit a fire under the pro-life movement – a movement not known for really following, understanding or believing in science – and they have stuck with it. These are real women’s lives, real women’s healthcare and bodies we are talking about, being put aside over a debunked hypothesis that has been taken as gospel.
That’s a perfectly valid point, since much of the abortifacient debate centers on the precise definition of pregnancy:
The plaintiffs in Hobby Lobby define conception as the point when the sperm and egg come together to make a zygote, which is why they object to these birth control methods—they can interfere after an egg has already been fertilized. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, on the other hand, defines conception as the moment when a fertilized egg implants in the uterus. The Supreme Court noted in its decision that federal regulations also define conception this way—“pregnancy encompasses the period of time from implantation to delivery,” one reads.
But not everyone agrees on this definition, and the court did not weigh in on the timing of conception or what kinds of birth control may or may not be abortifacients. “It is not for the Court to say that the religious beliefs of the plaintiffs are mistaken or unreasonable,” the decision reads.
If the federal regulations have the same definition, then we’re in murky territory. For my own part, I don’t think IUDs are abortifacients. In fact, the Dish has closely examined in the past whether Plan B could cause what some consider to be abortion: “Indeed, an overwhelming number of studies in the past decade back up the reader’s point that Plan B does not prevent implantation.” Aaron Caroll addresses similar concerns over the IUD:
Research does not support the idea that they prevent fertilized eggs to implant.
The journal Fertility and Sterility published a study in 1985 that followed three groups of women for 15 months. One group had an IUD, one group had their tubes tied, and one group was trying to get pregnant. They then measured hormone levels to see if fertilization occurred. It did so only in the group trying to get pregnant.
Another study found that a telltale sign of fertilization — a surge of the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin — occurred in only 1 percent of 100 cycles in women using IUDs. This would be consistent with the failure rate of IUDs in general. In other words, IUDs do not appear to work by aborting a fertilized egg.
So there is an extremely small area of gray. A reader adds:
The reason the FDA cannot say with 100% certainty that the drugs do not prevent implantation is there is no means of conducting an experiment to prove it. But logic says it is unlikely. My IUD would have to fail to prevent ovulation, at the same time it fails to prevent fertilization, within a window where there was sperm available. That’s statistically almost impossible. Also consider that fertilized eggs naturally fail to implant all the time, and many of those that do are incapable of cell replication and get, um, flushed out with the menstrual cycle.
Back to readers on the question of conscientious objection:
If you as a corporation want the tax break for providing insurance, provide the insurance. You don’t get to pick and choose what is in the package. If you as a corporation sincerely believe you can’t in conscious participate in providing insurance that includes medicine you consider to be morally wrong, then don’t. Don’t take the tax break for providing insurance. Pay the fine. Let your employees go onto the individual market and buy their own.
Sounds like a good idea in principle. But in practice, junking the whole thing because of an objection to four out of 20 contraception methods? Seems a little drastic to me. Another reader asks a “sincere question, not snark”:
If an employee of Hobby Lobby buys an IUD out of pocket or through a separate insurance policy she’s paid for herself, hasn’t Hobby Lobby actually paid for that anyway, since they’re the ones providing her with the money through her salary? Health insurance is just another form of compensation, so why can they put stipulations on that but not on her salary? No one’s suggesting that a company can make a potential employee sign a contract that stipulates they can’t use any part of their salary to fund what they consider abortion, but why isn’t that a logical conclusion of this decision?
I grant that this is a legitimate area of conscientious objection, but when Hobby Lobby’s 401(K) funds have invested in companies manufacturing some of these same devices, it seems more about exerting power than moral objections. (Can you say hypocrisy?) Or perhaps it’s about sticking it to Obama. Here’s an article in Forbes – which isn’t a liberal source – discussing this issue.
I agree that there appears to be a whiff of political posturing here as well.