The Corner

Elizabeth Warren and Misinterpretations of Hobby Lobby

I cannot believe that we live in a world where would even consider letting some big corporation deny the women who work for it access to the basic medical treatments or prescriptions that they need based on vague moral objections. 

– Elizabeth Warren

Scrolling through my Facebook feed following last week’s intensely scrutinized session of the U.S. Supreme Court, I was filled with as much fear and anger as the next pro-women’s health, pro-women’s-empowerment advocate when I stumbled upon the above quotation by Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat.

Not because of the apparent lack of punctuation and scorn for proofreading exhibited by Warren’s meme manager — because Warren so dishonestly says the court would, as so many “progressives” falsely claim, systematically deny women the right and access to health care.

Upon further reading of the “8 Best Lines from Ginsburg’s Dissent on the Hobby Lobby Contraceptive Decision,” I discovered still more startling “facts,” such as the idea that “the exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would . . . deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage.” 

Legions! It’s an all-out war!

And, I learned: “Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby’s or Conestoga’s plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults.”

Autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults! That sounds eerily empowering.

Confused as to what I should want, believe, or otherwise be up-in-arms-against, I read the opinion of Mother Jones’s Shana Gordon: “It’s terrifying to me how ‘belief‘ is trumping basic science on a governmental level.”

Eventually, my own risk of blood clotting steadily increasing thanks to the sweeping hysteria about the systematic oppression of women endangered by “belief,” I went to the original text of the Hobby Lobby case. What I found was, well, less sensational than claimed.

First, the Greens (owners of Hobby Lobby) and their family business have no moral objection to providing 16 of the 20 FDA-approved contraceptives under the HHS mandate, and will continue to provide a broad range of contraceptives at no additional cost to their employees. (They simply won’t provide the four drugs/methods whose mechanism of action makes them a potential abortifacient: Plan B, Ella, and hormonal and copper IUDs.)

Insurance often covers glasses, but not contacts; and dental, if you’re lucky, covers your cleaning but not your whitening. So, why the sweeping generalizations about restrictive access to contraception — as if every Walgreen’s would be shut down over night?!

The problem is our cultural conflation of contraception with women’s health. Birth control is perceived to be almost almost Vitamin BC – innocuous, healthy, and worth taking for just about anyone. So to limit access, in any way, is to hurt women and women’s health.

This perspective is deficient on face value. A great many women worldwide are perfectly healthy and happy and monitor their fertility without the use of artificial methods of birth control. Still others do rely on birth control to alleviate the symptoms associated with irregular cycles or reproductive imbalances. However, contraception is not a cure-all — nor actually a cure at all.

Contraception is not the same thing as reproductive health. It does not support the reproductive system, nor address any of the underlying root causes for, say, cramping, excessive bleeding, depression, weight gain, acne or mood fluctuations caused by hormonal imbalance, etc. It is a temporary fix, an Advil, for your reproductive health, and/or a means to an end in the form of contra-inception: the avoidance of pregnancy. It is mitigation in the battlefield of biology, not a win-win for women’s empowerment.

Second, according to the ruling, the government can step up and provide the contraceptives desired under a workaround or through some other form of legislation. In this way, an employer is not forced to directly pay for procedures and medication that goes against their conscience, especially (with emphasis) since the government can pay for them, as Justice Anthony Kennedy noted in his opinion.

Let’s suppose in some parallel universe the situation worked the other way: What if Planned Parenthood were required to provide prayer cards for their employees? Not only would it be an uncomfortable situation for Planned Parenthood, it would violate their corporate mandate and be a blatant violation of the rights and freedom of the employers to choose.

Remember the Funny or Die viral video during the last election, about how we should get the government out of our vaginas? How ironic. What are we debating if not how much the government and big corporations should should be allowed to intrude on such things? Governmental pill pushing and forcing employers to pay certainly qualify as intrusive in many people’s books.

So, yes, we could read this court ruling as further proof of the anti-choice war against women, or, perhaps we should, however grudgingly, acknowledge that personal autonomy is defined as “self-government.”

Finally, as I, and many others, have noted since the decision, Hobby Lobby (and similar companies) shouldn’t have to foot the bill for contraceptives, but their employees are still free to choose to use them as they wish. 

In today’s cultural environment, we have created a trinity of equivalence — contraception is equal to women’s rights is equal to women’s health. That’s how the fear-mongering snowball gets rolling. But contraception, prescriptively administered as the gauge of women’s empowerment or social progress, is neither a safe nor efficacious pill to swallow.

Elizabeth Warren is right: No one should be denied basic medical tests, treatments or prescriptions. Fortunately, this was neither under discussion nor dispute. The issue of “vague moral objections” is vague only to those willfully obscuring the terms of the debate.

— Clare Halpine is director of World Youth Alliance North America and a contributing writer for FEMM (Fertility Education and Medical Management). You can learn more about FEMM and reproductive health at

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