On Hobby Lobby, explain that ‘deeply held religious belief’

You got so close, Philadelphia Inquirer.

You got so close to a fair, enlightening news story on a Democratic senator who says he opposes abortion but rejects the religious concerns raised by Hobby Lobby in its recent U.S. Supreme Court win.

But here’s where you fell way short: in providing crucial details concerning the actual religious objections involved. Your story seems to get politics. Religion? Not so much.

The Inquirer report, of course, was published before a Democratic bill to reverse the high court’s Hobby Lobby ruling failed in the Senate Wednesday.

Let’s start at the top:

WASHINGTON — Sen. Bob Casey, an antiabortion Democrat, plans to vote Wednesday for a bill that would overturn the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision and force most businesses to offer employees the full range of contraceptive coverage, even if the owners raise religious objections.

The Pennsylvanian is siding with fellow Democrats – who argue that they are protecting women’s right to decide their own health care – and against many religious groups and Republicans, who say the court ruling protected religious liberties.

Casey, who is Catholic, said Tuesday in an Inquirer interview that he draws a distinction between abortion – which he still opposes – and contraception, which he has long supported and which he believes can reduce the number of abortions.

“The health-care service that’s at issue here is contraception, which means prior to conception,” Casey said.

But abortion has been a central part of the Hobby Lobby firestorm, which has also touched on health care, religious freedom, individual rights, and election-year politics.

OK, fair enough. Casey believes that the contraception involved here “means prior to conception.” But what do Hobby Lobby’s owners believe? Don’t expect an answer anytime soon in this story.

More from Casey:

Casey on Tuesday became the first antiabortion Democrat to cosponsor the bill, aimed at reversing the Supreme Court decision allowing business owners to exclude certain contraception options from their employee health packages. Some business owners said certain types of contraception could amount to abortion, an idea disputed by many doctors and scientists.

“I’m a pro-life Democrat, always have been, always will be,” Casey said. He later added: “I’ll go with the scientists on what contraception is, rather than a religious viewpoint of what science is.”

But what do Hobby Lobby’s owners believe? Oops. I already asked that. Still no answer.

Deep in the story, the Inquirer finally gets around to that question — but answers it only vaguely:

In the Supreme Court case — revolving around Hobby Lobby, a chain founded in Oklahoma City, and the Lancaster County-based Conestoga Woods Specialties — business owners raised religious objections to some types of contraception coverage that President Obama’s health-care law mandated as part of employee health insurance. They argued that certain methods amounted to abortion.

What would those “certain methods” be? Why does Hobby Lobby object to them? And specifically how does Casey (not to mention the reported “many doctors and scientists”) differ with Hobby Lobby’s perspective on them? The Inquirer provides no answers.

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

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.

It’s really not such a hard concept to explain — even in a newspaper with a finite amount of space — as USA Today demonstrated in a story today:

GOP Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Deb Fischer of Nebraska … argue that the ruling in the case does not limit women’s access to birth control but allows the family-owned company to avoid paying for certain birth control methods — in particular those that prevent maturation of a fertilized egg — that “would compromise their deeply held religious belief that life begins at conception.”

You got so close, Philadelphia Inquirer.

Image by Rob Wilson / Shutterstock.com

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.

  • Naomi Kietzke Young

    Part of the problem is that current medical terminology defines pregnancy as beginning at implantation of the fetus in the uterine wall, and abortion as the termination of pregnancy. Therefore, “contraception” confusingly prevents *pregnancy* but not necessarily conception. The Hobby Lobby owners support only those forms of contraception that actually prevent conception, not just implantation. Thus, both sides talk past each other because of definition of terms. There is a lack of consensus on whether some forms of hormonal birth control actually work through suppression of ovulation or prevention of implementation, which further complicates matters.

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      So it’s complicated, right? :-) Which means that news reports should explain the pesky details.

  • PalaceGuard

    “Casey, who is Catholic…” According to whom? Inasmuch as “Catholic” is thrown in, apparently to add to his political street cred or to emphasize his eminent “reasonableness”, while, at the same time attributing statements to him that are in direct contradiction to Church teaching, I feel the question is relevant.

    • Kevin Spencer

      I see that tossed in, too, with the writer clearly failing to note what Catholic teaching says versus what a layperson claims it to be. In fact, Casey isn’t called on his scientific opinion and whether he’s factual there or stating opinion again. The story could confirm both assertions.

    • n_coast

      In Pennsylvania it is well known that the Casey family is Catholic.

      • PalaceGuard

        And I am the queen of Romania. To quote Dorothy Parker.

        • n_coast

          In exile, I’d guess.

          • PalaceGuard

            Not so much, these days.

  • wlinden

    No questions over the claim that “the scientists” are in lockstep agreement.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    “would compromise their deeply held religious belief that life begins at conception.” And therein lies the issue – that is not a religious belief. That is a scientific statement (sort of). Sperm penetrates egg and a human life has begun — that’s according to the leading textbooks on human embryology, like the standard Human Embryology & Teratology, 3rd Edition http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0471382256.html.
    The religious belief is that “God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them,” and that, therefore, all human life is worth protecting and preserving, even at its most nascent stage.
    But you’re never going to see journalists, much less a court, make that distinction.

    • Naomi Kietzke Young

      Excellent point. And I am grateful for organizations like “Secular Pro-Life” who point out that “Life begins at conception” is NOT (necessarily) a religious belief….

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      The religious question (and the scientific one too) is when life begins, right?

      • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

        No, it’s not a religious question but a scientific one. How can religion legitimately determine when life begins? That’s not in its bailiwick. The religious/moral question is about the value of that life once it begins.

      • AuthenticBioethics

        Yes, I agree with Thomas. Moreover, much of the media avoid the underlying philosophical/social issue that we live in a culture that believes that definitions of words create the corresponding reality. Defining when life begins (and ends, for that matter) means that we can claim that anything falling outside the definition is not “human life” and therefore not an object of ethical importance on the level of “human life.” At any rate, as a Catholic and one versed in bioethics, my view of the origin and end of human life is formed by scientific data, and so is that of my church as far as I can tell. “What” human life “is” however – that’s very religious. Definitions of what human life is, in the absence of religious sensibilities, are subject to capricious social consensus and do not necessarily reflect the reality of human life but instead try to make it be a certain way. And the mainstream media do not seem to be subtle enough or agile enough philosophically to understand this phenomenon, probe it, and report on it.

      • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

        And if you’re talking about the question of ensoulment, that’s not germane to this issue, either. The scientific fact is that any time human sperm penetrates human egg a human being will come about. It happens every time. When that human being receives its soul has no bearing on the question of whether or not that newly fertilized egg is human.

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    The mainstream media is doing a masterful job for liberals and Democrats by making it look like the main issue in the case was somehow about the legality of contraception. But the main issue in the case was whether government can coerce employers to be a party to another’s determination to destroy an already existing human life. Providing “pesky details” so a rational debate can ensue doesn’t seem to be in much of the liberal media’s playbook.

  • R. Howell

    Perhaps they didn’t delve into the religious beliefs of the Hobby Lobby owners because they aren’t particularly relevant. The story is about Sen. Casey, not the Green family.