Hobby Lobby takes human biology to court, loses

The Hobby Lobby retail chain continues its court battle to avoid having to provide health insurance for female employees. This, the corporation says, is a matter of corporate religious liberty. Corporations are people, my friend, and corporations have the right to worship their corporate deities as they see fit.

“All they’re asking for is a narrow exemption from the law that says they don’t have to provide drugs they believe cause abortions,” Hobby Lobby attorney Kyle Duncan, a general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNN affiliate KFOR in November. “Our basic point is the government can’t put a corporation in the position of choosing between its faith and following the law.”

This is a weird claim of religious liberty. Duncan carefully says that the company should be exempt from covering medical care “they believe” causes abortion.

Duncan is careful to say that because he is aware that the drugs in question do not, in fact, cause abortion. Emergency contraception is just exactly  that — contraception. It does not end or interfere with an existing pregnancy.

It doesn’t matter if the evangelical gazillionaire owners of Hobby Lobby “believe” that emergency contraception causes abortions. It does not do that.

Nor does it matter if this belief is passionately sincere and sincerely passionate. Sincerity and passion won’t make it any less incorrect.

So Hobby Lobby’s legal claim is that a company has a “religious liberty” right to avoid anything they say causes abortion even if it does nothing of the sort.

If Hobby Lobby were to be granted such an exemption, then, what would prevent any other corporation from claiming that it believes minimum wage laws, OSHA regulations, nuclear safety rules and fire codes are also “abortifacient”?

What Hobby Lobby is seeking isn’t merely some legal permission to be exempt from providing health insurance. The corporation is seeking the “religious liberty” to redefine reality and to rewrite the laws of medicine, human anatomy, biology and chemistry.

I don’t think even the Supreme Court of the United States has the jurisdiction to allow them to do that. I suppose the justices could join Hobby Lobby in pretending that emergency contraception is not contraception, but even a unanimous 9-0 ruling declaring it to have properties it does not, in fact, actually have would not alter the fact that this nonsense about “abortion pills” remains just that: nonsense.

As Ari Kohen writes:

The bottom line is this: If you own a company and don’t understand how women’s bodies work, you might end up having to pay a million dollars a day to remain faithful to your understanding of what contraception means.

  • Vass

    to rewrite the laws of medicine, human anatomy, biology and chemistry.

    …astronomy, geology… oh wait, the Christian Right is already onto those.

  • EdinburghEye

    I wrote a blog post earlier in the year discovering that British pharmacists are allowed as a matter of conscience  by their regulatory body to pretend they believe that contraception is an “abortifacient”.  I don’t understand why the General Pharmaceutical Council isn’t moving to have these unfit pharmacists *struck off*, not publishing guidelines to say they have to be allowed to enforce their anti-scientific religious views at work.

  • http://loosviews.livejournal.com BringTheNoise

     Could they at least publish a list of names and places of work so I can avoid going to a pharmacist WHO DOESN’T KNOW HOW DRUGS WORK?

  • Becca Stareyes

    So, if Hobby Lobby said they refused to cover antiretroviral drugs because they believed that HIV infections were the result of sinful behavior… no wait, that still involves sex, so someone might take it seriously.  

    If Hobby Lobby said that they believed cancer was caused by sinful behavior, and therefore they weren’t covering chemotherapy, they would be shamed so fast they wouldn’t know what hit them.  

  • Lorehead

    I note in passing that Hobby Lobby is neither passionately sincere or sincerely passionate.  They offered this coverage without any qualms until they found out that President Obama wanted to make them do it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    What I find interesting is how many different types of organizations are actually religious groups. Hospitals and universities are affiliated with churches — I get that already. But apparently fast food restaurants and arts and crafts storestoo? My belief is, if even one of these random businesses manages to win an exemption from the health insurance mandate like this, every business will suddenly claim to be a religion for the sole purpose of evading federal regulations. Gas stations, casinos, dental offices, electricians, mechanics, and chain retail outlets will all be consecrated to the Lord. 

  • Matthias

    Well calling emergency contraception an abortifactient makes sense if you believe (as the religious right constantly claims to do) that life beginns at conception. Because if the fertilised zygote is already a fully human being than a drug that prevents its implantation into the Uterus is an abortifacient.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ann-Unemori/100001112760232 Ann Unemori

    I just have issue with the name, “Hobby Lobby”, sounds like a toy and puzzle shop, which also sells candles.

  • MikeJ

    So what if they were “abortion pills”? Abortion is legal. And more importantly, *it isn’t the company’s money* that is being spent.  When a company buys health insurance, they get a tax write off.  It is a business expense, just like the rest of the payroll.  When an employee gets health insurance, she *pays* taxes on it.  The money belongs to the employee, not the employer.

    Can an employer who believes the Catholic or Mormon church to be a cult tell their employees that they cannot give any of their pay checks to those cults? If they can’t force one religious decision on an employee, they can’t force another.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Except that Plan B doesn’t prevent implantation.

    It delays ovulation so that conception never happens. 

    There were studies done that show that overly huge amounts of estrogen can cause failure to implant in mice, so that warning was stuck on Plan B while they studied it in human vagina owners. But no proof has been found that it happens in human women. 

  • http://www.metagalacticllamas.com/ Triplanetary

    Because if the fertilised zygote is already a fully human being than a
    drug that prevents its implantation into the Uterus is an abortifacient

    Except for the fact that emergency contraception doesn’t do that. It merely prevents ovulation. If the woman has already ovulated, she’s basically dealing with normal levels of pregnancy risk.

    This is why emergency contraception is only about 80% effective. That’s a hell of a lot better than zero, but not high enough to use as anything but a last resort.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I have a question.

    Why is it that only Christians get exemptions for things they find morally reprehensible? And why is it that we continue catering to these people? In the worst case scenario, women die because these people refuse to accept science. Or LGBT people commit suicide. In “better” situations, peoples’ lives are just hardcore damaged. 

    Why are we still treating these people like anything but willful idiots? And why are they the only ones who get these exemptions? When a church stops getting tax dollars from people who don’t want to fund hate and ignorance, nobody dies. Just pointing that out. And I’m sure there are other examples as well. 

  • http://www.metagalacticllamas.com/ Triplanetary

    The bottom line for me is this: your employer has no right to dictate their own morals to you. If they consider pornography sinful, that doesn’t give them a right to stop me from using my wages to buy pornography.

    (Not that I would. There’s enough of the free stuff out there. But you get my point.)

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    You know, I remember a time when a prevailing narrative was that growing up and supporting oneself required a willingness to engage with reality as it is, rather than insist that other people play along with one’s ideas of how it ought to be.

    In fact, I remember when U.S. conservatives insisted that this was one of the defining characteristics of conservatives, and consistently attempted to portray U.S. liberals as juvenile and insufficiently serious to be allowed to govern because they were comparatively unwilling to “face facts”.

    Oh, wait…  (holds fingers to fake microphone in ear) U.S. conservatives still do that?

    Huh. Weird.

  • Jake

     It is a myth that EC prevents implantation. The only mechanism for EC for which there is evidence is that it prevents ovulation, just like regular birth control pills. There is some theory that says that EC might cause cervical mucus to thicken, preventing conception after ovulation, and might cause the uterine lining to be thinner, preventing implantation after conception, but there is no evidence that those things actually happen.

  • Matthias

    In the book contraceptive technolgy (20th edition 2011)  Trussell et al claim in the chapter “emergency contraception” (p113-145) on page 121 that
     “Emergency insertion of a copper IUC is significantly more effective than
    the use of ECPs, reducing the risk of pregnancy following unprotected
    intercourse by more than 99%.This very high level of
    effectiveness implies that emergency insertion of a copper IUC must
    prevent some pregnancies after fertilization.”

    And further:
    “To make an informed choice, women must know that ECPs—like the birth control pill, patch, ring, shot, and implant, and even like breastfeeding—prevent
    pregnancy primarily by delaying or inhibiting ovulation and inhibiting
    fertilization, but may at times inhibit implantation of a fertilized egg
    in the endometrium. ”

    However they also note that:
    “Pregnancy begins with implantation according to medical authorities such as the US FDA, the National Institutes of Health and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).”So as for any normal person which does not view a zygote as fully human emergency contraception does not count as an abortifacient. However most of the relgious right does not count as a normal person…

  • http://www.antichristaliens.com/ Dr. Lock Ledger

    These are the attitudes that keep people buying high-capacity magazines. People fear forced conversion. Which is what this is.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    They should try arguing child labor laws are an abortifacient.  After all, if you could get a profit off your children, people might have more, ergo less abortion.  They should also try applying the same logic to women’s wages!

    (No, no they totally shouldn’t).

  • AnonymousSam

    Don’t know if they’d argue that they’re an abortifacient, but they do argue that child labor laws should be struck down. :p

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Well calling emergency contraception an abortifactient makes sense if
    you believe (as the religious right constantly claims to do) that life
    beginns at conception. Because if the fertilised zygote is already a
    fully human being than a drug that prevents its implantation into the
    Uterus is an abortifacient.

    Yes, except that everything you jst said is wrong. Emergency contraception does not prevent implantation. Emergency contraception does not work if there is already a fertilized zygote.

    Calling emergency contraception an abortifacient only makes sense if you believe life begins at ejaculation.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Calling emergency contraception an abortifacient only makes sense if you believe life begins at ejaculation.

    Which is only a marginally less coherent position than “life begins at conception”, really. Give it time.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Sure. I’ve long held that “Life begins at ejaculation” is the position anti-choice hard-liners hold, it’s just that the idea is so ridiculous that they need to wrap it in a layer of cognitive dissonance to keep themselves from noticing how ludicrous their position is.

    (The hint is that it makes conception “about” the man — conception happens when the *man* makes it happen.)

    (I will elaborate that what they believe is something more along the lines of “Conception, if it happens, happens at the moment of ejaculation, and I refuse to listen to those so-called ‘medical experts’ who say otherwise” — they obviously don’t believe that life begins at an ejaculation that doesn’t lead to pregnancy. I think of it as being like when you buy insurance. Your insurance doesn’t happen until they get the check, but once they get the check, your insurance is back-dated to one minute past midnight the day after you got the policy. If conception happens, life is back-dated to the moment dad came.)

  • P J Evans

     There’s a bit of  ‘every sperm is sacred’ in their views, isn’t there?
    I wish they’d be required to take sex-education classes. And pass the tests with a perfect score.

  • EdinburghEye

     Well calling emergency contraception an abortifactient makes sense

    No, it really doesn’t, because emergency contraception doesn’t work by “preventing a fertilised zygote from implanting”. It works by preventing the woman from ovulating.

    It makes sense for religiously-minded ignoramuses with no reason to study how human fertility actually works.

    It makes no sense for a qualified pharmacist to think this.

    If a qualified pharmacist says that he can’t fill a prescription for “X” drug because his church teaches him that “X” drug has a “Y” effect on the human body when in fact “X” does not cause “Y” effect, the pharmacist is proclaiming that what he knows as a scientist, as a qualified medical practitioner, is secondary to what his church teaches him as TRUTH. This is like a doctor refusing to perform vaccinations because his church teaches him that vaccinating a child against measles will give the child bubonic plague.

    The proper reaction is not “oh well, you don’t have to perform vaccinations then, religious freedom and all that”  but “WTF? Why are you still a doctor?”

  • Matthias

     As the book Contraceptive Technolgy (which I already cited) states some emergency contraception methods only prevent ovulation and consequently only have a succes rate of 80% (the remaining 20% being cases in which the ovulation already happened).
    However others like the emergency implantation of coppur IUC achive an efficiency of 99% by also preventing nidulation.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I just have issue with the name, “Hobby Lobby”, sounds like a toy and puzzle shop, which also sells candles.

    When I first heard it, I assumed that it was the name of some legal organization representing the hobby shop industry.  

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     

    The proper reaction is not “oh well, you don’t have to perform
    vaccinations then, religious freedom and all that”  but “WTF? Why are
    you still a doctor?”

    I like to say that if your christian faith prevents you from discharing your duties as a doctor, you should perhaps consider a field where the ceremony for entering the profession doesn’t involve swearing an oath to Apollo.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    There’s a bit of  ‘every sperm is sacred’ in their views, isn’t there?
    I wish they’d be required to take sex-education classes. And pass the tests with a perfect score.

    The moment you make them take objective and comprehensive sex education based on the best medical knowledge available is the moment you hear them start screeching about public schools being Godless liberal indoctrination centers.  

  • http://www.metagalacticllamas.com/ Triplanetary

    Talk to a hardcore anti-choicer or MRA (there’s a lot of overlap) and they will pretty much balls-out claim that the dude shooting his load constitutes the vast majority of the work involved in making a baby, and that therefore men should have a say in whether or not “their” fetus can be aborted, men should automatically get custody, etc.

    You can try to point out to them that carrying a fetus to term for nine months – that’s nine months of morning sickness, back pain, having various probes rammed up your reproductive system, plus a million other things that aren’t occurring to me because I don’t have a fuckin’ uterus – seems like a bit more work than just ejaculating, but it seems to go right over their heads. It’s really surreal.

  • stardreamer42

     Every sperm is sacred!

  • stardreamer42

    This is where WE need to be using their “teach the controversy” line of argument.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Yeah, that’s consistent with the stuff that gets said.

    It makes a lot more sense if I assume a magic model than a biological one.
    Which is also consistent with a lot of stuff that gets said.

    I suppose I should be grateful that we’ve come as far from a magic model as we have, collectively.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     Personally, I prefer to stick with my “teach the facts” line of argument. It works pretty well in this case, too.

  • berry

    Actually, it’s  precisely because the Supreme Court can’t rule on biological matters that Hobby Lobby is arguing about what they “believe”; the courts will focus on whether their belief is reasonable, rather than whether it is true.

    But in this case, I don’t think it is reasonable; even if a contraceptive does induce miscarriages, this is a side effect rather than the purpose, so it is not an “abortifacient”. And an exemption for any drug that one “believes” might induce a miscarriage would be very broad indeed. For example, I did a quick Google search and found articles claiming that swine flu vaccine and SSRI-type antidepressants are known to produce miscarriages.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    I think if someone started a religion that said that paying taxes was a sin and minimum wage laws were literally spawned by the Devil, they could probably get hundreds if not thousands of corporate converts overnight.

  • Shayna

    Except these contraceptive drugs don’t actually prevent implantation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens Randy Owens

    …is the moment you hear them start screeching about public schools being Godless liberal indoctrination centers.

    “Start”??

  • Mark Z.

    If Hobby Lobby said that they believed cancer was caused by sinful
    behavior, and therefore they weren’t covering chemotherapy, they would
    be shamed so fast they wouldn’t know what hit them. 

    There ARE sexually transmitted cancers: cervical cancer, some kinds of mouth cancer, Kaposi’s sarcoma if you want to count that.

    And a lot of chemotherapy drugs are abortifacients, because they kill or otherwise interfere with rapidly dividing cells. (Methotrexate has been used for abortion for decades–it has enough on-label uses that it can be obtained without too much scrutiny.) So yes, if a woman is undergoing cancer chemotherapy, and has sex with her husband, and fertilization occurs, the chemo drugs will likely kill the embryo or prevent it from implanting. Let’s hope Hobby Lobby never finds out about that.

  • AnonymousSam

    What makes this scary is that it’s already happening elsewhere. There was a medical case just a few months ago about a woman who was denied chemotherapy for her advanced leukemia because she was pregnant.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Talk to a hardcore anti-choicer or MRA (there’s a lot of overlap) and they will pretty much balls-out claim that the dude shooting his load constitutes the vast majority of the work involved in making a baby, and that therefore men should have a say in whether or not “their” fetus can be aborted, men should automatically get custody, etc.

    I would be more than happy to restrain such men in a submission hold while a lady of their acquaintance goes to town on them with the Chair Leg of Truth.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Talk to a hardcore anti-choicer or MRA (there’s a lot of overlap) and they will pretty much balls-out claim that the dude shooting his load constitutes the vast majority of the work involved in making a baby, and that therefore men should have a say in whether or not “their” fetus can be aborted, men should automatically get custody, etc.

    I would be more than happy to restrain such men in a submission hold while a lady of their acquaintance goes to town on them with the Chair Leg of Truth.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I find myself wondering what her prognosis was without the chemo, and what the chemo-denying lot expect would happen to the baby if (as may not be true with this particular case but is certainly true of some similar cases) the cancer kills the pregnant person before the fetus is viable.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon
    …is the moment you hear them start screeching about public schools being Godless liberal indoctrination centers.

    “Start”??

    Screech louder, anyway.  

    Actually, you know what?  Let them screech!  Let them screech so loud no one can stand to listen to them any more and collectively yells at them to just shut up already, they already lost any moral authority on this issue, sheesh.  

  • AnonymousSam

    I can answer that.

    Prognosis without chemo: Death within six weeks
    Pregnancy: Somewhere in the four month range-ish, don’t recall
    Odds of successfully delivery without chemo: 0.00%

    Actual outcome: Patient, doctors and lawyers eventually concluded that chemo could and should be tried after four weeks. Patient was too far gone by that time and died during treatment.

  • fraser

     If it did on rare occasions prevent implantation that would be closer to a miscarriage than an abortion–a side effect, not a deliberate effort.
    And if they can refuse to offer it because of a slight speculative risk, what about medicines that can cause miscarriage as a side effect. I’ll bet good money that’s on the way.

  • fraser

    I’ve run into comments (and obviously if you browse enough comments, you can always find low-hanging stupid fruit) that argue preventing fertilization is enough because you’re preventing a baby from being born (ditto masturbation).

  • EllieMurasaki

    If I were that woman’s family, I would be suing the shit out of the people responsible for denying the chemo. It wouldn’t bring her back, but it would make them hurt, and the winnings could be used to help other people in the same situation. I would also be inquiring about criminal charges that could be brought against those people.

  • EllieMurasaki

    So what’s keeping those people from requiring all fertile individuals to be inserting penis in vagina as many times per day as is physically possible? Not having sex, after all, prevents a baby from being born.

  • Littlepanchuk

    I’ve really enjoyed reading this blog in recent months.  However, after reading a few of your posts on contraception and abortion, I am concerned that you fail to see what those opposed to emergency contraception really object to.  I am not criticizing your position on these issues, nor do I want to endorse the owners of Hobby Lobby’s attempt to avoid providing full medical coverage to their female employees.  But it seems like something important has been lost in the discussion.  It is not that the objectors all fail to understand how emergency contraception works, though probably some do.  They simply disagree with the medical definition of ‘abortion’.  What muddies the water is that they continue to use the term, while giving it an entirely different meaning than the rest of society.  As a result they get caught up in semantics rather than presenting their view carefully.  This is both unfortunate and foolish of them.  It makes them appear ignorant and uninformed.  In reality, they want to object to the destruction of a biological entity that they believe to be morally significant (or count as a ‘moral patient’). Whether or not that destruction counts as an abortion is not the issue at all.  The issue is whether or not emergency contraception causes an event they hold to be immoral–which is possible whether or not an abortion occurs.  While most people disagree about the moral significance of this biological entity, those who hold these views are not limited to conservative fundamentalists.  In fact, the best arguments in their favor are not religious at all. Two interesting philosophical publications that address this issue are: A. R Pruss, I was once a Fetus, and Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen, Embryo.  Both argue for the moral significance of biologically human life that begins before implantation.  Even if they are wrong, they demonstrate that this view can be held in a respectable way, quite apart from ignorance and religious fanaticism.   

  • http://www.metagalacticllamas.com/ Triplanetary

CLOSE | X

HIDE | X