Hobby Lobby, Contraception, and the Morning After Pill

Hobby Lobby

You’ve probably heard about the contraception controversy in the Obamacare mandate, i.e., that companies who have health plans must include coverage for contraception in those plans. Many churches and religious organizations cited this as an infringement on their religious liberties, and they’ve been granted an exception to that particular clause. However, corporations and private businesses have not been granted that exception, and some Christian-run stores, such as Hobby Lobby, are challenging it in court, and having a tough time.

I have to admit that I’ve been torn on this issue, but not as it relates to religious freedom. I know, for a fact, that there are medical reasons for taking birth control pills that go beyond simply preventing pregnancy. For example, they’re used to help with endometriosis and ovarian cysts. So why not cover it if it’s all the same to the employer, and how is covering a legitimate medicine any problem for a Christian? Just because someone may use a medicine in an objectionable way is no reason for someone else to feel guilty about providing coverage for it. If that were the case, how could a Christian ever cover someone’s pain medication?

So when I saw that Hobby Lobby was challenging the mandate on religious grounds, I was a little upset. I could see them challenging it on the grounds that “the government doesn’t get to dictate the medical plan I provide”, but religious grounds? That seemed flimsy — until I read what they were upset about. Obamacare isn’t mandating that they help cover simple birth control pills; they’re mandating that they pay for “morning after” pills.

There’s a vast difference between a preventative medication, and one whose sole purpose is to stop a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. If a Christian believes that life and human dignity begins at conception, then it seems unconscionable to require them to pay for medication aimed at terminating that life. Yet that’s exactly what this legislation does, and it’s being upheld in court.

I wasn’t on board with the religious objection thing so much before. I am now. This is a two-fold villainy: it’s a violation of free market, and worse, it’s a violation of conscience. I can handle the former to a degree; the second should not be tolerated. If a woman is going to attempt to abort a child she may have just conceived, she ought not expect that her employer or a tax payer have to pay for it.

Photo via YLakeland.

About Brad Williams

Brad is the pastor of a Baptist church in a small town in Alabama. Brad has a lovely wife, two children, two dogs, a cat, a turtle, and five bee hives. Besides the incredible fact that he managed to persuade his wife to marry him, he is proud that he served six years in the Army National Guard, managed to graduate college with an English Lit. degree, graduate seminary, and finish the original Bard's Tale as a youngster by making maps on graph paper.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/pgepps pgepps

    Thanks, Brad. And in re the dual use medicines: your pain medication analogy is somewhat apt. There are uses, kinds, and amounts of pain medication that are prescribable for given purposes; and there are uses, kinds, and amounts that would be called “prescription drug abuse” or “doctor-assisted suicide” or “overmedication” or “malpractice.” As with ella, so with “the pill”: if we *honestly* want the secondary effects, we can develop dosages or treatment protocols, and legal and prescriptive methods, to distinguish the use from the abuse. But to insist that we have to fund indiscriminate use of drugs that are *primarily* abused (i.e., used in anti-life ways) just because there are *secondary* effects that might be good, or matters of indifference, is to insist that we have to fund methadone clinics because they sometimes get addicts off the junk. The reason those secondary effects have not been isolated, studied, and developed is simple: preventing and destroying life is more sexy.

  • Joe Canner

    The government is not making Hobby Lobby (or anybody else) pay for contraception (including the morning-after pill) directly. The requirement is that they pay for insurance that covers these things. Why can’t religious organizations and Christian-owned companies leave these moral decisions in the hands of their employees instead of trying to control their lives and acting like Scrooges in the process?

  • Callmekatie

    Joe, always interesting to see another perspective. My question is, what is the difference between paying directly for something that violates your conscience and handing your money to a third party to pay for such a thing? Many employers don’t offer health insurance, and in my experience, one of my worst jobs was a place that did; I believe many (most?) stay there JUST for the benefits. Benefits aren’t everything, and healing should probably not cost 1/10 what it does sometimes. But that’s another subject for another day.

    Brad, I’m glad you’re behind Hobby Lobby’s right to follow their own conscience(s). But most birth control pills seem to have the possibility of being abortive also: http://www.epm.org/resources/2010/Feb/17/short-condensation-does-birth-control-pill-cause-a/. I’m not going off of one isolated article; the pill information itself, I believe, will list making the womb “hostile” to implantation as one way of preventing pregnancy–not a necessary characteristic if the pill prevents ovulation. Christians are absolutely responsible for looking into this carefully if they are going to use the pill. (And yes, I personally know one physician who will not prescribe the pill–for birth control reasons–because of this.)

    Thanks for reading!

  • http://www.manofthewest.net Ian B

    A couple of thoughts…
    Brad, you may not believe the use of contraceptives be sinful in itself, but Catholics, Orthodox (I believe) and some Protestant denominations do. I’m not Jewish, but I don’t believe Orthodox Jews should be forced to buy bacon. I’m not a pacifist, but I don’t believe Quakers should be forced to fight in the military. One can oppose the mandate to provide contraceptive coverage on religious liberty grounds whether one believes contraception itself to be sinful or not. And that’s without even touching on the issue callmekatie raises about hormonal contraceptive medications. (Also, the Catholic Church, and I would suspect most other groups that oppose contraception allow the use of “the pill” for medical reasons – so there is no reason there insurance plans could not stipulate that. The contraceptive effects in that case are viewed as unfortunate side-effects of the medical goal of treatment).
    Joe – as callmekatie says, those who object see the basic principle as being that they are being required to directly pay for something that provides a fundamentally immoral product/service. The issue of direct/indirect payment and the moral liability there is complex. No country accepts, for instance, that people can opt out of general taxation because of conscience objections to specific things the government does- otherwise no one would pay tax. Pacifists are excused from combat service in the draft, but can’t refuse to pay income tax because a significant proportion of those funds go to the Pentagon. But the analogy here, in the eyes of those who object to the mandate, is that pacifist employers would be forced to buy guns for their employers…

  • Shayla

    I will be watching this case closely. I guess you could say that I’m on the “other side” since I’m not a Christian, nor am I overly conservative. But I do believe that we should have the right to use our money (or our company’s money) in a way that reflects our beliefs. I don’t feel that it’s right to force anyone to pay for something that they oppose. (I also believe that life is sacred, but that’s a separate issue.)

  • Brian

    The core of this is that the Govt. is getting involved in a private business transaction. Many of the organizations that are objecting to this mandate are self-insured: They fund their own insurance plans that they then offer to their employees. Besides the moral issues the mandate runs up against, it is putting restrictions and requirements on a private transaction.
    And Joe: The Govt IS indeed requiring that Hobby Lobby provide these meds free of charge to their employees. Since the Govt isn’t in the business of supplying these meds to Hobby Lobby who is then required to pass them on to their employees, Hobby Lobby would have to pay directly for these meds. If a plan provides a free service, the cost is passed on to those paying for the plan.

  • Passing By

    Just to clarify. The morning after pill does NOT require a prescription however some pharmacies do not offer it. There’s an age minimum on a few of them. It is available over the counter–no doc involved and it’s treated by the insurance companies the same way as Advil, Tylenol, band-aids, etc. are treated–none of these are covered either because they do not require a prescription. That’s the key word for insurance companies. If it needs a prescription (so that the insurance companies pay for it), it is likely it will become less available.

    It’s a no-win situation…

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  • Joe Canner

    Brian: If a company objects on moral grounds to paying for contraceptives AND if they self-insure, then I take your point. If a company offers its employees commercial health insurance they are paying for premiums not for specific products. Christian companies might as well boycott any insurance company that covers contraception because their premiums are being put in a big pool that might ultimately be used to pay for them.

  • Ted Seeber

    For me, it isn’t even the mandated payment for abortions; most insurance already covers abortion in one form or another.

    It is *specifically* the one thing that the judge said who threw out the Hobby Lobby case:
    Nobody who is earning money at an activity has freedom to exercise their religion in that same activity.

    In other words, if the Obama Administration wins against Hobby Lobby on appeal, say goodbye to being able to run a for-profit business in keeping with your religious values AT ALL.

  • A Hermit

    Insurance is a benefit provided by the employer; in effect part of the employee’s wages.

    Should employers be able to dictate to their employees how their money is to be spent? If your boss was Muslim should he be able to forbid you from spending your wages on pork or alcohol? This is essentially what Hobby Lobby is arguing they have the right to do.

    Employers have no more business making health care decisions for their employees than they do telling them what to eat or drink.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christandpopculture Brad Williams

    My point about birth control is that is has major medical uses beyond just controlling pregnancy, such as in endometriosis. Therefore, even if I had concerns about it preventing an egg to be implanted, I could still in good conscience cover it as an employer.

    A Hermit,

    It is not at all like that, as I understand it. The employer pays the insurance company directly as a benefit. Would you rather just receive that money as a wage and find insurance on your own? That would be possible, but you would pay more. A company is not morally obligated to pay anything for health coverage. If they do not want to pay for something, or include it in a plan that they are paying for, it is their right.

  • Daniel

    A Hermit, I think you’re mistaken in two ways:

    (1) If it is true that insurance is “part of an employee’s wages”, then the employer is already deciding how to spend some of the employee’s wages–for health insurance, rather than for new clothes, a six-pack, a new Bible, a subscription to Playboy or anything else the emplyee might otherwise choose to do with those wages. Before the individual mandate, some employees in fact did say that they’d rather have the cash–but of course, they never received it, because they only “opted out” of paying any portion they themselves (and not the employer) paid. Very few employers pay 100% of their employee’s health insurance, and I sincerely doubt that any employers raise the salaries of the employees who opted out of the health plan by any portion that they saved from the opt-out.

    (2) Which leads to the second point–if the employer is using his or her OWN funds to pay for something for his or her employees, why is it so unfair for the employer to decide how they want to spend it? A benefit like this inherently involves value judgements, whilst giving cash does not. Let’s say an Orthodox Jew decided to give kosher Turkeys to his employees for Thanksgiving, but the employee would rather have a ham? Does he not have the right to give the Turkey instead of the ham?

  • Cheryl Dawson

    Brad, you are spreading misinformation. Plan B does not stop a fertilized egg from implanting. It slows ovulation. It is contraception; it does not destroy a fertilized egg.

    “The morning-after pill prevents fertilization from ever occurring, primarily by slowing the egg from entering the uterus until after the sperm die off, as long as five days after intercourse, according to leading scientists. Some pills also make it harder for the sperm to reach the egg by thickening the cervical mucus. But no studies have shown that the pill affects the egg once it is fertilized — the moment of conception, according to some religious precepts. It turns out that this politically charged fight over Plan B and abortion is “probably rooted in outdated or incorrect scientific guesses about how the pills work,” says Pam Belluck at The New York Times.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/06/health/research/morning-after-pills-dont-block-implantation-science-suggests.html?_r=3&pagewanted=all&

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