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Hobby Lobby: A ‘supreme’ misunderstanding

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Full disclosure: As a male, I am not, nor have I ever been, on birth control.

Still, the recent public debate regarding a company's right to deny women access to health care plans that cover contraception is very important to me.

I have friends and family that rely on birth control methods for both contraception and medical purposes, a fact that has been completely overlooked in an already ludicrous argument.

A few years ago there was a huge debate about whether or not government funding of Planned Parenthood was appropriate, especially in the economy of the times. During a budget debate in Congress, (former) Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl made a claim that abortion services are "well over 90 percent what Planned Parenthood does."

Unfortunately for Kyl, that figure wasn't at all correct. 

According to Planned Parenthood's own numbers, only 3 percent of the services it provided in 2009 included abortions (This is the data available at the time of Kyl's remarks). The majority of the services provided included STD testing and treatment, and contraception, both at 35 percent. The third most frequent service provided, at 16 percent, was cancer screening and prevention.

Therefore, Kyl actively fought to prevent women from seeking medical care for treatable and preventable diseases.

But before we go there, we should probably clear a few things up first.

Hobby Lobby isn’t looking to ban all forms of birth control. Employees are still eligible to receive coverage for most forms of birth control pills, condoms, sponges and sterilization.

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The objection, on religious grounds, is to the Plan B and Ella “morning after” pills and IUDs. Hobby Lobby and their supporters argue these forms of birth control are abortive because they prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.

But in actuality, eggs are not fertilized immediately after sex and it can take up to six days for the sperm and egg to meet. “Morning after” pills and IUDs work by withholding the eggs in the ovary for an extended amount of time, preventing them from ever being fertilized in the first place.

That’s the science of it.

But, in addition to contraceptive purposes, use of nonhormonal IUDs (plastic and copper) have been linked in studies to a decrease in endometrial cancer, while hormonal (levonorgestrel) IUDs may be used to treat issues including menorrhagia and anemia.

A man learns something new every day.

But I, along with every other man I know, have never used any hormonal or invasive methods of birth control meant exclusively for women.

So why should other men be so invested in winning this argument?

The CEO of Hobby Lobby, David Green, is male. So are all the Supreme Court Justices in the majority. Every female justice on the Supreme Court (and Justice Beyer) joined Justice Ginsburg in the dissent, which claims the majority has entered a “minefield” by granting a for-profit company the type of religious freedom afforded to individuals.

“In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs,” Ginsburg wrote in her 35-page dissent.

For Justice Ginsberg, the implications are sweeping: What if a business owner’s religion is against immunizations?

Justice Alito addresses these concerns in his opinion: “In any event, our decision in these cases is concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate. Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs. Other coverage requirements, such as immunizations, may be supported by different interests (for example, the need to combat the spread of infectious diseases) and may involve different arguments about the least restrictive means of providing them.”

And this is the “minefield.”

Why would a religion’s objection to immunization be any less valid than a religion that can’t reconcile certain contraceptives with their own beliefs? What part should the government play in parsing those up, if any?

Alito’s wording (and own parsing) seems to imply that birth control isn’t supported by “different interests” as immunization is (i.e. the spread of infectious diseases), but as we’ve seen, contraceptives including IUDs have benefits that suggest otherwise.

There’s such a gap of understanding regarding women’s health care, it’s hard to believe the discussion has been so male dominated: I remember tuning into a 24-hour news network during the Planned Parenthood budget debate of 2011 to find a entire panel full of men, nary a woman in sight.

Is it because a woman might have disagreed with the perspective of a group of men, all of whom could never have any idea what any of it actually meant or felt like to be denied that choice?

Also on NJBIZ's Women in Business "Breaking Glass" blog:

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Andrew Sheldon

Andrew Sheldon

Andrew Sheldon covers technology and education. His email is andrews@njbiz.com and he is @AndrewsNJBIZ on Twitter.

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