The Hobby Lobby case

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision could have far-reaching consequences

To understand the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last week in the Hobby Lobby case, it’s important to understand the real issue. It’s not birth control, as many believe; it’s abortion.

The family members who own Hobby Lobby, a large arts-and-crafts chain, are OK with 16 of the 20 birth-control methods allowed under the Affordable Care Act. They object to four contraceptive methods they consider abortifacients, or pregnancy terminators: two types of IUDs and two emergency contraceptives, Ella and Plan B.

But they’re wrong about these methods. According to the Food and Drug Administration, these methods do not prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus; instead they prevent fertilization from occurring in the first place. They are contraceptives.

That the case was based on bad science didn’t matter to the five justices, all men, who decided in favor of Hobby Lobby. As Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his majority opinion, “The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients.” Being required to offer their employees health insurance that includes these methods, he added, constitutes “a burden on their religious beliefs.”

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissenting opinion, the decision would allow corporations to opt out of almost any law they find “incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.” Some religions object to vaccinations; others to blood transfusions. Christian Scientists eschew doctors and hospitals.

If the court approves “some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation,” Ginsburg writes, “[it] could be perceived as favoring one religion over another, the very risk the [Constitution’s] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude. … The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

Indeed it has.