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Duly Noted

Thursday, Nov 28, 2013, 3:03 pm

Hobby Lobby May Know a Lot About Yarn, But It’s Wrong About Birth Control

By Lindsay Beyerstein

Hobby Lobby's argument that its shouldn't have to cover employee birth control hinges on flimsy 'facts.' (Nicholas Eckhart/Flickr/Creative Commons)  

This week, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear a pair of cases challenging large employers’ obligation to provide comprehensive health insurance for their employees, including birth control. The owners of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp insist that Obamacare violates their companies’ religious freedom by requiring them to pay part of the cost of minimally acceptable insurance for their workers. Why? Because, according to Hobby Lobby’s lawyers, the emergency contraceptive known as Plan B causes abortions, which a devout corporation (?!) like Hobby Lobby shouldn’t have to pay for.

Hobby Lobby’s owners aren’t arguing that birth control violates their faith per se, they’re just nursing a crackpot theory that certain forms of birth control cause abortions.

We’re all entitled to our own religious beliefs, but we’re not entitled to our own set of facts. Someone should have taken Hobby Lobby aside a long time ago and said, “Relax, these forms of birth control don’t cause abortions. Go back to selling silk flowers and glue guns, secure in the knowledge that you are not underwriting any form of abortion.” Don’t they have lower courts for that?

The European version of Plan B now reassures customers on the package that the drug cannot “cannot stop a fertilized egg from attaching to the womb.” We know that Plan B (levonorgestrel) doesn't prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the walls of the uterus because it doesn't work if it is taken after ovulation. The drug only works if it is taken before ovulation and successfully inhibits the release of the ovum. Also, scientists have studied the effects of brief high-dose levonorgestrel on the uterine lining and found that it doesn't do anything—in vitro or in vivo—that would make an egg less likely to implant.

Levonorgestrel is basically high-dose birth control. Daily birth control can thin the lining of the uterus, which hypothetically, could make a fertilized egg less likely to implant. But if you're taking birth control regularly enough to thin the lining of the uterus, chances are, you're not releasing an ovum to fertilize. Again, this is only a hypothetical risk. This phenomenon has never been conclusively documented. And we know that women who take the pill improperly or inconsistently are at risk of getting pregnant. So, whatever happens to the uterine lining is no guarantee against implantation if an egg is released and fertilized.

Finally, the idea that impeding the implantation of a fertilized ovum would be an abortion flies in the face of the medical definition of pregnancy. A woman isn't pregnant until the ovum has implanted itself in her body. Medically speaking, a pregnancy begins when the woman's body takes on life support for the embryo. This makes sense if you think about it. If a woman is undergoing artificial insemination, she doesn't become pregnant the moment the eggs are inserted into her body. She has to wait and see if she gets pregnant from the insemination. Anti-choicers can assert that preventing the implantation of a fertilized ovum is as wrong as abortion, because they're free to assert whatever dogma they want, but they're not entitled to redefine pregnancy.

Religious freedom doesn’t allow you to make up facts and demand that people treat you as if those facts were true.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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