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04 July 2014 @ 12:27 am
Scientific Literacy, Religious Freedom and Hobby Lobby  
So there's a lot of stuff going around about the Hobby Lobby decision that is inaccurate. And it's bothering me because even just the bare facts of the case should upset you, without having to resort to exaggerations.

First, Hobby Lobby (hereafter HL) was not objecting to birth control per se. It was objecting to four specific types of birth control, including IUDs and Plan B and ella, because the founders believe those types cause abortions. Their Christian faith says life begins at conception, which they think is "egg and sperm meeting." Therefore IUDs which prevent the egg from implanting kill that embryo (i.e. are abortion). But the pill itself, and the shot and the patch and what have you- the other 16 forms of BC- are fine by HL.

And yet we still should be super upset about the verdict. Because the way that those forms of BC operate DOES NOT cause abortion. Plan B and ella prevent an egg from being released at all by preventing (Plan B) and/or disrupting (ella) the hormones surges that signal the body to release an egg; therefore, there is no egg for the sperm to join with to fertilize. If the egg has already been released, it will do nothing for you and you can still get pregnant.

For IUDs, the mechanism is slightly different. Copper IUDs release copper (duh) which is a spermicide to "kill" the sperm. Mirena is hormone-based and releases progestin, which thickens the cervical mucus, preventing the sperm from reaching the egg. (The barrier becomes too difficult for the sperm to cross).

So, to recap: ella and Plan B prevent pregnancy by stopping the release of an egg. So no egg = no baby. IUDs work by killing the sperm or impeding it so much that it can't get to the egg. No sperm = no baby. Scientifically speaking, in NONE of those cases are there any babies- embryos, zygotes, fetuses, whichever term you can put in here- being aborted or at all harmed. The purpose of these methods is to prevent there being a baby.

Where the grey area comes in is that fact that IUDs are foreign bodies lodged inside you, which naturally causes swelling and mild inflammation. And that inflammation can prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus, which HL owners consider an abortion because the fertilized egg is expelled from the body and "dies," being unable to support itself. But this is not the main purpose of the IUD; it is a natural side effect of any foreign body inside your body anywhere.

I will admit, up until very recently I had no idea how any of these things worked myself. And my state mandates sex ed (which many still do not). I actually learned it on Tumblr of all places, which linked to reputable sites like Planned Parenthood and WebMD to back up their info. But it is really hard to actually find out these things; you need to dig. The term "Plan B" or "morning-after pill" certainly makes it sound like an abortifacant, like it releases some chemical to affect the zygote and stop it from developing. But that's not the case at all. Mirena (and other IUDs by extension) is shown on TV commercials, or used to be, and it does look like it floats around and scrapes the fertilized eggs off of your uterine wall, what with the long metal strings and all. But it doesn't; it is implanted and secured in place' the strings are merely to allow the user and/or her doctor to easily check its placement.

So, I sympathize with Hobby Lobby's owners in some interesting ways. I am "pro-the choice for life" myself because of my faith, so I understand the train of thought that drives them to oppose abortion. The ideology is consistent; if life begins at conception, things that affect the zygote even a second after conception kill that life. And I know how incomplete and misguided most people's understanding of how contraceptives work is. I also see how various media outlets, and especially Democratic partisans, are twisting things around to make HL look worse than it is.

This is frustrating for a number of reasons: general fairness and a desire for intellectual honesty; hyperpartisanship perpetuates same on the other side and leads to more gridlock and division, and, importantly; it is unnecessary. There's plenty to be upset about without oversimplifying the case. For instance, HL isn't stopping women from getting birth control, just limiting which types they can get through their insurance. They are limiting women's choices, which should be just as distressing as removing the choice entirely.

Also, there's the whole "burdening religion" thing. Paying for a service they find morally wrong and that their religion forbids burdens the free exercise of religion for HL owners- ok, fine. But Hobby Lobby isn't paying for the service. HL may be paying part of the premium, but so is the employee. Let's say HL has chosen Insurer A as its provider. The pool of money for HL employees is kept in an account at Insurer A; this pool includes both money HL paid and money the employees paid as part of their premiums. There's no way of knowing which money came from which source. So it's completely possible for the Plan B prescription to be paid for entirely by money contributed by employees without using any money from HL itself.

Moreover, HL the company is not purchasing any health service. It is purchasing insurance from Insurer A. Doesn't Insurer A have the right to cover the services it deems fit, without HL's religious beliefs infringing on that? The Court is very fond of corporate rights right now; what about the rights of Insurer A, a corporation, not to have the religion of HL forced upon it?(I am tempted to add something about how the line of reasoning could be used to get out of taxes [i.e., my religion is against war and if my tax money pays for a war which is against my religious beliefs it is infringing my rights] but that seems unnecessarily slippery slope-y when it's not warranted; I think my other points stand well enough on their own.)

But more to the point, the Justices basically said science doesn't matter. Science says that these BC methods do NOT cause abortions, but the religion of HL founders says it does. And that belief trumps science. Medicine especially is entirely inseperable from science. We need people to value science and be scientifically literate for a variety of reasons, but an important one to me and many others is so that medical advances can continue to happen. When we start letting things slide that science shows are provably false, we decrease people's respect for and appreciation of science, and I don't think we can afford to do that. Especially when religion and science are not incompatible and can coexist and enrich each other.

Religious liberty is important and needs to be protected. But religion is such an intensely personal thing; it's your own personal belief in and connection to God. The whole point of the freedom of religion clauses was to keep it as an intensely personal, private relationship and not let the state dictate to someone how they ought to worship. But a corporation cannot have a religion in this way. It is made up of many people who all have individual relationships with God, or no relationships at all or some combination thereof, but as an entity HL itself cannot worship or tithe or pray or be saved. Congress should amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to reflect this.

I also think that people should spread more information about IUDs, Plan B and just birth control in general. I bet a lot of people have no idea how they work. If HL's founders understood the mechanisms, maybe they'd see it's not abortion, that it doesn't do what they imagine it does, and be open to offering coverage after all. A little knowledge goes a long way.

And, in a really crazy (awesome) world, we'd get away from the whole insurance thing as we know it in the US. We equate- and Obama and the ACA are so so guilty of this- insurance coverage with access to healthcare. And it's just not that simple. Just because I have insurance doesn't mean they will cover my medicine, at the quantity I need at the time I need it. (TOBI refills every 63 days anyone?) Just because HL's employee insurance plan doesn't cover IUDs and Plan B doesn't mean people can't get those treatments, conversely.

Insurance does not actually have much of anything to do with one's medical care; money does. Where you live does. How much energy you can/will expend does. Fix the healthcare system- not the insurance system, the actual healthcare system- and rulings like this wouldn't matter so much. Until then, worry about the Hobby Lobby decision, but for the right reasons.
I'm feeling: annoyedannoyed