(July 2014) Birth Control, SCOTUS, and the "religious rights"

I just love it when people get science. I mean, really get science. I love it even more when people make outrageous – or even small – claims about issues they clearly know very much about, because they just get science, in the way Creationists understand science. You know?

It seems much of the country (sadly, much of the voting population) is misinformed about some very basic things they should have learned in 5th or 6th grade. You know, in “Human Growth and Development.” At the very least, this should have come up again in a high school health class. Ultimately, one would hope that before forming solid opinions about these issues or, for example, taking a case to the United States Supreme Court over them, one would do a little research to make sure one has their facts straight. A little background reading.

Shockingly – read: not shocking at all – this was not done!

Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialists took cases to the Supreme Court to get out of covering certain methods of birth control in their employee insurance policies. Because they are so sincerely passionate about their religious beliefs, which condemn abortion. Which they claim these specific methods of birth control induce. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

First, let’s talk about pregnancy and abortion, and a number of other things. Perhaps some term definitions will help?

  • Pregnancy – A few  OB/GYNs believe pregnancy begins when the egg and sperm meet and fertilization occurs. Most OB/GYNs believe pregnancy is not official until successful implantation of the blastocyst into the uterus. With successful implantation, the body begins to produce the hormone hCG and – tada! – you’ll get 2 lines lines (or a happy face, or whatever) on your pee-stick pregnancy test.
  • Ovulation – when the ovaries release an egg into the fallopian tubes. Said egg is not fertilized. Said egg will most likely travel all the way down and out of the woman’s body – the “period” is the flushing out of the uterus, getting rid of anything inside if pregnancy has not occurred or is not sustainable. It is important to note that ovulation of an egg does not mean a woman is pregnant, and that an unfertilized egg is not an unborn child.
  • Sperm – the stuff men offer to the blessed union. Just as an unfertilized egg is not a tiny unborn person, neither is sperm.
  • Fertilization – when sperm meets and gets all up in an egg. This happens in the fallopian tubes. A fertilized egg has a harrowing, dangerous journey ahead of it and a VERY unlikely chance that it will actually stick around in the uterus and become a person.
  • Implantation – when the fertilized egg implants itself in the uterus and the whole pregnancy process begins. The article just linked to states, “Implantation is what sets in motion all the signs that pregnancy has begun. On this one point, science, medicine and the law agree: implantation is the moment at which pregnancy starts…Until it affixes to the woman’s womb a fertilized egg can not receive nutrients from the woman’s body, which is essential for it to grow. Implantation is also the only way in which a pregnancy can be determined, there is no test that can tell when an egg has been fertilized—there is no way of knowing whether or not this has happened.”
  • A clinically recognized pregnancy (read: successful implantation) has a maximum, best-case-scenario chance of occurring only 30-40% of the time a woman has ovulated and sperm has met the egg. Much of the time a fertilized egg will not implant. Much of the time it will be – brace yourself, men – bled out during the woman’s next period, and no one will be any the wiser. The journal article I link to in this bullet point claims that lack of viable pregnancies happens more because of fertilized eggs not implanting successfully as opposed to eggs not being fertilized successfully. Until that embryo implants successfully you are not chemically, clinically, or by any other name, pregnant.
  • Contraception – methods (medicines and devices) that prevent pregnancy. PREVENTION is the key term, here. According to our definitions, contraceptives prevent pregnancy. You will recall that pregnancy does not begin until implantation has occurred. Contraceptives are NOT akin to abortion, which, as you will read below, is the termination of a viable pregnancy.
  • Abortion – the deliberate termination of a viable human pregnancy, most often during the first 28 weeks of pregnancy.

Okay. Having clarified some terms, let’s look at the contraceptive methods opposed by Hobby Lobby.

Plan B, or as it’s popularly known, the “morning after pill”

  • To refresh, people are saying that Hobby Lobby opposes only the birth control methods that cause abortions. So, what does this pill do, exactly, to cause an abortion? Nothing.
  • Plan B works by providing a super-charged dose of a hormone included in most regular, pill-form birth controls to prevent ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovaries). As fertilization occurs most commonly 1-3 days after ovulation, Plan B works by immediately preventing the potentially upcoming release of an egg, thereby preventing fertilization. Again, prevents fertilization by preventing ovulation.  Plan B has no effect whatsoever on an egg that has already been fertilized. It is NOT an abortifacient. It is the SAME DRUG, only in a higher dosage, as the other forms of birth control Hobby Lobby is happy to cover.

Ella, another “morning after pill” 

  • A “progesterone antagonist” that will inhibit or delay ovulation. Similar to Plan B, but a different drug. The effect is the same – prevention or delay of ovulation in order to prevent fertilization. Fertilization, which you will remember, can lead to pregnancy but is not the same as pregnancyElla has no effect on an egg that has already been fertilized. It does not prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. It does not affect the development of an implanted embryo. It does NOT cause abortions. 

IUD – intrauterine devices (ParaGuard and Mirena)

  • An IUD is a t-shaped device that is inserted into the uterus (by a health professional) and remains there until removed (again, by a health professional). An IUD works to prevent pregnancy, not terminate it. There are several kinds of IUDs – copper and hormone-based.
  • A copper IUD (Paraguard) works by making the uterus inhospitable to sperm (copper kills sperm before sperm reach the egg). A copper IUD may also prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. Remember that pregnancy does not begin until successful implantation, thus by preventing implantation one is not aborting a pregnancy.
  • A hormone IUD (Mirena) releases hormones that suppress ovulation, thickens cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching an egg, and thins the lining of the uterus to make implantation difficult.
  • None of these actions affect a pregnancy in progress. These actions by the IUD device prevent pregnancy from occurring.


Now, what to do with all the science?

The claims by Hobby Lobby and so many others that these methods induce abortions are patently untrue. Those claims are misguided and they are toxic. There is a long-standing history of fear-mongering in this country – please do not be sucked into the lies being sold to you that contraceptives are just abortions in disguise. This is just not true.

It’s easy to get caught up in the passionate claims of people, especially if you are genuinely concerned about the well-being of the unborn. I’d like to assert that I, too, am passionate about the health and development and well-being of the unborn. I’m growing one myself. Women who use these methods of birth control are also likely concerned about the well-being of the unborn. Perhaps they understand their situation better than the owners of Hobby Lobby and the 5 conservative SCOTUS justices, and understand that they are not prepared – mentally, emotionally, physically, financially, etc – to care for a baby that could come from a sexual encounter. Thus, they would like to prevent it. They do not want to kill the unborn. They want to prevent pregnancy.

Optimist that I am, I refuse to believe that the Green family and 5 Supreme Court justices are so ignorant that they didn’t really know what these birth control methods did when they made their ruling. If I know, surely the owners of a multi-million dollar corporation and people who are on the Supreme Court of the United States of America must know. Or, at the very least, would look into the drugs/devices they were opposing in order to find out exactly what they did. Let’s assume they did this…

So Hobby Lobby owners know that Plan B and Ella prevent ovulation and have no effect on a fertilized egg. They know this. They still oppose these drugs on the grounds that Plan B and Ella are abortifacients incompatible with their Christian faith. Thus, they must believe that life begins before fertilization. They must believe that pregnancy begins with ovulation – or rather, before ovulation, as they oppose the prevention of it with Plan B or Ella.

But THEY DON’T oppose the prevention of ovulation by the other means of birth control that they are happy to provide. The pill, for example, that prevents ovulation each month. They are happy to cover this.

So, what are you really against, Hobby Lobby owners? It sounds to me like you are against unplanned and unprepared-for sexual encounters by your female employees that may necessitate the use of “emergency contraception” – in single or partnered (I’m guessing you’d prefer the term “married”) employees and their partners alike. After all, what kinds of people need emergency contraception? It sounds more like a behavioral judgment on your part than a “sincere religious conviction” to preserve life.

And the IUD devices you oppose? Okay, so you think women who have sex outside of marriage are harlots. I disagree, but whatever. What about your faithfully married employees who do not want to have any kids or any more kids, and this is the method the couple or the employee and their doctor have decided is best? Who are YOU to get in between a patient and their doctor? Who are you to make the judgments for them?

Ultimately, who the hell do you think you are?

The First Amendment gives you the right to practice and live according to your religious beliefs. We all value this right here in the USA – religious and non-religious alike. Because you also have the right (as do we all) to not have the religious beliefs of others imposed upon you.

So you don’t think these specific birth control methods are ethical. Fine. DON’T USE THEM. But as an employer, you have a legal obligation in this country to provide your employees with proper access to health coverage and health care. You probably do offer coverage for a great many things – well done. But you can’t pick and choose what to offer the employees of your for-profit, not religiously affiliated at all corporation based on your personal religious beliefs. (I mean, I guess now you can, thanks to the SCOTUS, but that’s not right. That’s my point here. It’s not right.) The law is not a buffet from which you can pick and choose what you would like to follow. That is what it is becoming, but that is not what it is supposed to be.

Hobby Lobby owners, I wish I could believe that your faith was sincere, but it’s fishy to me. You see, I have a hard time understanding why you are only just bringing up your opposition to covering emergency contraception after the ACA was put into effect, when you had been covering those drugs without a problem for years before.  It doesn’t look good, Hobby Lobby. It looks like you are a 5 year old child who normally has no problem keeping his room tidy, but will throw a f@#%ing tantrum when his parent tells him he has to. “I will NOT!” you say, crossing your arms and pouting.

And it’s fishy to me that you are fine with paying your employees money they can use to buy the emergency contraception for or pay for the opposed devices themselves. Either way, you’re paying for something you claim to disapprove.

And it’s really strange that you have no problem with investing and allowing your employees to invest in and profit from the very same companies that produce the drugs and devices you so “sincerely” oppose.

AND you don’t seem to have a problem doing business with China, which has mandated abortions and controversial methods of population control for years and years. So, in another just-as-round-about-as-providing-insurance-coverage way you are also supporting China in its policies of population control that include abortion.

Hobby Lobby owners, if you’re so concerned about honoring life, why don’t you provide new mothers with paid maternity leave? You know, the time after a baby is born? I shake my head at what you call “pro-life,” but what can only be defined as “pro-pregnancy,” because you clearly have little regard for caring for life after birth.

Anyway. This isn’t a dissertation; I should stop writing. You get my point, I hope, belabored as it is. This whole issue stinks of misinformation, lies, and hidden agendas. What next? (More of the same, I fear.)

As a footnote –

  • There is a legitimate abortion-inducing drug out there called RU-486. This is correctly labeled an abortifacient, as it will induce the termination of pregnancy in the early stages. RU-486 is NOT a contraceptive. RU-486 is NOT included in the mandate to cover contraception. The government does NOT mandate coverage for abortifacients or abortions.


“Train up a child in the way she should go, and when she is old she will not stray from it.” (In other words, here are my references. St. Norbert College taught me, in no uncertain terms, to always include my works cited. Go Green Knights!)

Washington Post – What’s abortifacient? Disputes over birth control fuel Obamacare fight.

The Endowment for Human Development – The First Week: Prenatal form and function.

Association of Reproductive Health Professionals – Dispelling common myths about intrauterine contraception.

The Atlantic – Here’s why Hobby Lobby thinks IUDs are like abortions.

Human Reproductive Update Journal – Conception to ongoing pregnancy: the “black box” of early pregnancy loss.

RH Reality Check – Much ado about nothing: Pro-life misconceptions about contraception.

FDA – FDA approves Ella for emergency contraception.

Princeton University, Office of Population Research and the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals –Plan B

Mayo Clinic – ParaGuard and Mirena

Washington Post – Hobby Lobby should walk the moral path it talks about.

Upworthy – Hobby Lobby gets what it wants and John Oliver explains why that’s going to backfire badly.

Mother Jones – Hobby Lobby’s hypocrisy: the company’s retirement plan invests in contraception manufacturers.

Huffington Post – Christians call out Hobby Lobby for hypocrisy.