Big news report card: Hobby Lobby and contraceptives

One of the big misconceptions about the Hobby Lobby case (with apologies to Conestoga Wood Specialties) is that the Oklahoma City-based arts and crafts retailer refuses to pay for employees’ contraceptive coverage.

Alas, the National Review notes:

Hobby Lobby’s health care plan … includes access, copay-free, to the following categories of FDA-approved birth-control:

  1. Male condoms
  2. Female condoms
  3. Diaphragms with spermicide
  4. Sponges with spermicide
  5. Cervical caps with spermicide
  6. Spermicide alone
  7. Birth-control pills with estrogen and progestin (“Combined Pill)
  8. Birth-control pills with progestin alone (“The Mini Pill)
  9. Birth control pills (extended/continuous use)
  10. Contraceptive patches
  11. Contraceptive rings
  12. Progestin injections
  13. Implantable rods
  14. Vasectomies
  15. Female sterilization surgeries
  16. Female sterilization implants

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented Hobby Lobby, explains the family-owned company’s position:

The Green family has no moral objection to the use of 16 of 20 preventive contraceptives required in the mandate, and Hobby Lobby will continue its longstanding practice of covering these preventive contraceptives for its employees. However, the Green family cannot provide or pay for four potentially life-threatening drugs and devices. These drugs include Plan B and Ella, the so-called morning-after pill and the week-after pill. Covering these drugs and devices would violate their deeply held religious belief that life begins at the moment of conception, when an egg is fertilized.

Given the widespread confusion over the case, details concerning what Hobby Lobby will fund, what it won’t — and why — are crucial to understanding this week’s major U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Based strictly on that important question, I reviewed some of the major first-day news coverage of the high court’s 5-4 decision this week in Hobby Lobby’s favor (a hat tip to the Pew Research Center’s daily religion headlines for providing most of the below links).

Maybe I’m being overly generous in my summer grading, but the coverage I read — in general — did an adequate job of explaining the contraceptives issue:

Boston Globe: A.

Obama’s health care law requires company insurance plans to provide free access to 20 contraceptive methods that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood objected to having to cover two types of emergency contraceptive pills and two types of IUDs that they liken to abortion.

If the owners of the companies comply with the mandate, “they believe they will be facilitating abortions, and if they do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price — as much as $1.3 million per day, or about $475 million per year, in the case of one of the companies,” (Justice Samuel) Alito wrote.

Detroit Free Press: B.

Hobby Lobby objected to providing insurance for four contraceptives: two morning-after pills and two types of intrauterine devices. The high court’s ruling, however, applies to all 20 FDA-approved contraceptives in the following way: If a family business is opposed to any of them on religious grounds, it can’t be forced to pay for them. …

The decision involves two Christian-owned family businesses that challenged a provision of the federal Affordable Care Act, claiming it unlawfully required them to pay for contraception insurance or face hefty fines of up to $1.3 million a day. The owners of Hobby Lobby, along with those of a -based (sic) cabinet wood maker, said they believe that some contraceptives “end human life after conception” so they shouldn’t be forced to offer them.

The Free Press needed to make clearer that Hobby Lobby’s insurance plan covers most of the contraceptives.

Los Angeles Times: A.

In the contraceptive case, owners of closely held for-profit companies who object to the contraceptive mandate under the Affordable Care Act won the right to opt out if they have a “sincere religious belief that life begins at conception.” …

The Greens provide health insurance, including most contraceptives, to their employees. But they objected to “morning after” pills and IUDs, which work by preventing fertilized eggs from developing into pregnancies. Viewing such contraceptives as a form of abortion, they sued, seeking an exemption from the federal law.

The Oklahoman: A.

The families say four of the contraceptives — including the so-called “morning after” pill and IUDs — can prevent a human embryo from being implanted in the womb, which they equate to abortion. They filed lawsuits against the federal government, contending the mandate forced them to violate the Christian beliefs by which they run their companies.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: A-plus.

The Green family, evangelical Christians who own Hobby Lobby, and the Hahn family, Mennonites who own Conestoga Wood Specialties, object to providing four of the 16 forms of birth control that the Affordable Care Act requires to be available for free to women employees. They include emergency contraception commonly known as the morning-after pill and intrauterine devices that prevent embryos from implanting in uteruses.

Because their religions say life begins at conception, the Greens and Hahns equate the two methods to abortion. They argued that requiring them to provide them would violate the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits the government from restricting the exercise of religion unless doing so furthers a very important public interest that cannot be achieved in a less restrictive way.

The Post-Gazette gets extra points for explaining the families’ belief in life beginning at conception.

Politico: A.

The challenges were brought by the Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., a national craft store chain owned by evangelical Christians with more than 13,000 employees, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a small Pennsylvania cabinet company owned by Mennonites.

The owners of both said they have religious objections to providing access to certain forms of contraception — Plan B, Ella and certain intrauterine devices, which they call abortifacients — in their employee health plans. They had the backing of the Catholic bishops, several Republican lawmakers and at least 50 other for-profit companies that have filed similar legal challenges.

New York Times: B.

The health care law and related regulations require many employers to provide female workers with comprehensive insurance coverage for a variety of methods of contraception. The companies objected to covering intrauterine devices and so-called morning-after pills, saying they were akin to abortion. Many scientists disagree. …

The companies said they had no objection to some forms of contraception, including condoms, diaphragms, sponges, several kinds of birth control pills and sterilization surgery.

The NYTimes covers the basics, but the “Many scientists disagree” statement fails to explain the bigger debate over when life begins.

Wall Street Journal: A.

The Affordable Care Act requires employers to cover all forms of contraception approved by the government without charging workers a copayment. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., an Oklahoma City arts-and-crafts chain owned by an evangelical Christian family, and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., a Pennsylvania cabinetmaker owned by a Mennonite family, objected to covering the so-called morning-after pill and certain intrauterine devices because they consider them tantamount to abortion.

Washington Post: A.

The requirement in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that most businesses provide their employees with health-care coverage that includes the full range of contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration has been under legal attack across the country.

Some businesses object to offering contraception at all, while others, like the companies that brought the challenge to the Supreme Court, say offering certain types of birth control, such as intrauterine devices, make them complicit in abortion.

Given all those A’s and B’s, dare we blame the misconceptions on too many chatterboxes not bothering to read actual news reports?

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • FW Ken

    Exactly: the voices getting the most attention are editorial punditry. And this one is really bringing out the loons.

    But I’ll make this point. What ” the family claims” is actually a matter of fact. They may be wrong, but it’s not their “claim”. To say that “some scientists disagree” creates an imbalance. The fact is, some scientists agree with the Greens. I agree with you that the issue needs further explanation.

    While I’m at it, this is bringing out the Know-Nothings in force. I’ve seen it in editorial contexts, as well as statements from the usual suspects, but would be interested to see if the meme of the 5 Catholic judges shows up in hard news.

    • Bobby Ross Jr.

      FW Ken, re: Many scientists disagree. As one of my colleagues put it, “Hey, it’s a miracle the word ‘many’ was used.” :-)

    • Jane Dunn

      No, what the family claims is not fact. The SCOTUS opinion was clear that it was accepting what Hobby Lobby’s owners believed as their belief, not as a fact.

      Scientists do disagree with the Greens and the “why” is not really about “when life begins” because the best evidence is that the EC pills don’t work post-fertilization. Here’s the best current science, from a detailed academic review of all the studies:

      “To make an informed choice, women must know that ECPs—like all regular hormonal contraceptives such as the birth control pill, the implant Implanon, the vaginal ring NuvaRing, the Evra patch, and the injectable Depo?Provera,88 and even breastfeeding89,90,91,92—prevent pregnancy primarily by delaying or inhibiting ovulation and inhibiting fertilization, but it is not scientifically possible to definitively rule out that a method may inhibit implantation of a fertilized egg in the endometrium. At the same time, however, all women should be informed that the best available evidence is that the ability of levonorgestrel and ulipristal acetate ECPs to prevent pregnancy can be fully accounted for by mechanisms that do not involve interference with post?fertilization events.” (p.7)

  • wlinden

    My nephew is here insisting that on Tuesday the Court “issued a clarification” saying that the exemption applies to ALL contraception. This does not pass the smell test, since I do not see it anywhere (he gave no reference, of course), and that is not how courts operate!. SCOTUS is not a dial-a-ruling service.

    • Jane Dunn

      You’re mostly right, but your nephew wasn’t hallucinating either. The AP reported (or opined), based upon orders issued by SCOTUS in other pending cases, that SCOTUS likely views its Hobby Lobby opinion as broad enough to require the same result in cases in which businesses object to **all** FDA-approved birth control or contraceptives. AP’s tweet was pretty much as your nephew said, and it definitely gave the impression of an unprecedented dial-a-ruling as you noted.

      I think the AP was right about what the new orders signal about what SCOTUS will do in the, for example, Catholic-owned business cases in which the company’s owners object to all artificial birth control. But, their tweet was badly done. I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about either until I read about the new orders in the other cases at, which always has the most accurate reporting on the Court.

    • KSV

      He is probably referring to the Wheaton decision the next day where the plaintiff objected to all contraception and even signing a form so the insurance companies can provide it directly. It was a second decision on a similar subject and significantly broadened its reach.

  • Julia B

    One of the main problems is terminology. Contraceptives utilize a variety of methods of birth control; but all birth control methods are not contraceptive.
    All 20 methods approved by the government are for birth control, but only 16 are meant to prevent conception, i.e. they are contraceptives. The other four are birth control methods, but they are not formulated to prevent conception, i.e. they are NOT contraceptives.
    Everybody is mistakenly equating birth control with contraceptives. There can be arguments about exactly how the other four methods prevent birth, but it’s not by preventing conception.

    • wlinden

      Quite so. I am exasperated at seeing the New York subway plastered with posters exalting “His Condoms, My Birth Control”…. like condoms are not birth control? If they mean “My Pills, His Condoms”, why don’t they say so?

      In any case, as Chesterton says, “birth control” means no birth and no control.

    • Jane Dunn

      Julia — I know the difference, but it’s just not correct to say that the EC pills were not designed to be contraceptive. They were designed that way and the best available evidence is that that is how they work. Take a look at the Princeton academic review of all the science, which concludes that:

      “At the same time, however, all women should be informed that the best available evidence is that the ability of levonorgestrel and ulipristal acetate ECPs to prevent pregnancy can be fully accounted for by mechanisms that do not involve interference with post?fertilization events.” (p.7)

      The abortion pill RU-486 was specifically designed to be abortafacient, but the morning-after pills are different.

      • Julia B

        I thank you for that information; however, not everybody feels sure that is true. It still would be better to call them birth control methods, when referring to all 20. They aren’t all contraceptive.
        I continue to read things like the ACA’s “contraceptive” and “contraception” mandate.

        • Jane Dunn

          I understand. I don’t really have a problem with calling all the drugs/devices/procedures “birth control.” But, I think many conservative writers have long overstated what was known about how the EC pills work. The idea that they are potentially abortafacient was only a hypothetical conclusion based on what was believed to be true about how effective the pills were. There was never any science purporting to establish that directly. The drug company asserted that claim and it’s impossible to prove the negative (that it has no effect post-fertilization). The newest science shows that the EC pills are not as effective as originally thought and that when given post ovulation the number of pregnancies is basically the same as for women who didn’t take the EC pill.

          The “why” is only partly about the question of when life begins. It’s also about the science.

          • Julia B

            OK I get it.
            Since you mention “science” – At university I studied zoology, biochem, organic chem, physiology, microbiology, mycology, etc. and grew up in a medical family and married an MD. I’m familiar with science. I used to translate French neurology papers and books. I also belong to one of the earliest cohorts who took birth control pills in the early 60s when they were really new. Turned out we were on doses way higher than needed; lots of side effects. I was in Korea when the Army ran out of birth control pills and got either a Lipps Loop or a Dalkon Shield – can’t remember now. Got back to the states; had a hysterectomy at age 32. So – I’m pretty keen on getting really, really good info on what goes in the body. Don’t assume everybody who is leery about these 4 birth control methods are religious conservatives.

          • Jane Dunn

            Julia — My heart goes out to you for what you went through. Thank you for sharing it. It helps to understand your perspective. Good point about not everyone who’s leery about the 4 disputed methods being conservative.

            I definitely get the limits of science and of doctors. (I am/was the designated question-asker for my parents in dealing with a couple of very serious/ultimate medical issues, including hospice issues, for them.)

            I think there’s a big difference between a healthy scepticism of the limits of what science and doctors can be certain about (you, as I understand it, on this issue, and me on other issues) and just being anti-science. I see too many conservatives being anti-science on this issue. (And yes, anti-science happens on the left, too: vaccines.).

          • Julia B

            I think “anti-science” is a very unfortunate term. People may disagree with the interpretation of scientific studies or reports or misunderstand them, but I’ve never met anybody who is actually “anti-science”.
            The scientific method involves always being open to better facts and better interpretations; it’s how our knowledge moves forward. There is no monolithic “science”. Many of Galileo’s explanations of what he saw in his telescope turned out to be wrong; even some of Einstein’s theories haven’t panned out. My father always used to talk about a high-level scientist, Dr Ivy at U of IL, who was pushing something called “krebiozen” that was going to cure cancer – it was beans.
            There are lots of scientists that disagree with each other; so which scientist is “anti-science”? None of them.
            People can be uneducated about the current best evidence of scientific matters, but that doesn’t make them “anti-science”. One can, of course, be “anti-scientific method”, though. Maybe that’s what you mean.

          • Jane Dunn

            No, I really mean anti-science. They believe what they believe, believe that anyone who disagrees is either part of a vast conspiracy or of the devil, will only accept science if it comes from an explicitly Christian organization, etc. There’s a lefty version of this as well.

            Debating the science of something using more science isn’t anti-science or anti- anything. That’s just healthy intellectual debate and is the basis for scientific progress. That’s not what I’m talking about.

          • Julia B

            OK This is my last comment. You are talking about people who possibly don’t understand or accept the scientific method and how proofs are made, for whatever reason. My father-in-law thought the moon landing was faked. You are speaking about a very small group of people, but implying that this is behind the thinking of most conservatives. I have never met anybody like that.
            I maintain that “anti-science” is an epithet that some people throw at people with whom they disagree. If there is a legitimate scientific argument against what these people say, then make that scientific argument. Don’t throw nebulous terms like “anti-science” at them. In my experience throwing around “Anti-science” is the argument method used by people who don’t know much about science themselves. Over the last week-end I got an earful about “anti-science” from a theology professor turned lawyer who is now an atheist. He knows exactly ZIP about science.

          • Jane Dunn

            Julia– My last as well. I never said or implied that all or even most conservatives are anti-science. I also said and repeated that there are anti-science folks on the left as well. But, I think there are more folks like your father-in-law than you might think. Maybe we’ve just had different experiences in that regard.

            I **am** trying to make a scientific argument. That’s why I keep posting the Princeton report. No one has responded on the science yet. Nor have I seen any scientists challenge the conclusions if the report (although I’m open to being shown any I’ve missed).

            Happy Independence Day. Glad we have the right to agree to disagree!

          • Julia B

            The Princeton report says their evaluation is based on the best current evidence; it isn’t definitive. Since that is the case, some people want to err on the side of caution. That doesn’t make these people “anti-science”; and my father-in-law was not “anti-science”, either, although I think he was really, really wrong.

          • Jane Dunn

            As I’ve said at least a couple if times now, I don’t have a problem with healthy, reasoned scepticism such as what you’ve expressed. I can accept that as a religious belief but I don’t think the science supports that. We impose the death penalty with less than 100% certainty. I think it’s a close call about where to draw the line on an RFRA claim.

            I would include folks who believe in crazy conspiracy theories in the anti-science category. Call them whatever you’d like. I think there are more of them than you do. They’re just not interested in the science.

          • Julia B

            And as I’ve said a number of times. I don’t like the term “anti-science” – it claims too much about the person it is used to describe.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “is based on the best current evidence; it isn’t definitive”

            You can make that claim about practically anything scientific. To be a responsible practitioner and to speak responsibly on scientific topics, one has to base their views on the “best current evidence” . . there’s no viable alternative. Those who don’t accept that GHGs aren’t contributing to global warming or think vaccines lead to autism are yes, being very anti-science as they are ignoring the best available evidence based on some ideological belief that is evidence-free.

  • KSV

    The problem is that with the Wheaton decision following on the tail of Hobby Lobby, ALL contraception may be excluded on religious principle, not just potentially abortifaecient contraception. (Which as a matter of recent scientific fact does not apply to IUDs since blood-testing users for HGH, Human Gonadatrophic Hormone revealed that the sperm never fertilized the eggs to begin with.) Hobby Lobby may be more problematic for corporate law since the decision directly contradicts prior statements about the separation of the ownership and employeeship of a single individual in liability matters.

  • KSV

    And using the logic groups want exemption from LBGT non-discrimination in hiring: