March 24, 2014 — An editorial and opinion pieces in the Daily Beast, New York Times and Washington Post outline arguments in support of the federal contraceptive coverage rules as the Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments on Tuesday. The court will hear challenges from the for-profit corporations Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, which argue that their owners' personal religious objections to contraceptives should exempt the businesses from having to offer contraceptive coverage to their employees.
~ Tiffany Stanley, Daily Beast: Hobby Lobby and Conestoga object to certain contraceptives -- including "Plan B, Ella, copper and hormonal [intrauterine devices]" -- that they claim "could endanger ... life" in the womb, but the drugs and devices "do not cause abortions as the plaintiffs maintain, because they are not being used to terminate established pregnancies," Daily Beast columnist Stanley writes. Stanley notes that the medical and scientific consensus is that pregnancy begins with the implantation of a fertilized embryo in the uterus. She cites research finding that Plan B and similar emergency contraceptives act by preventing ovulation, a fact that FDA has not yet affirmed by revising the labeling on these EC products. "This research means that Plan B and its equivalents do not meet even Hobby Lobby and Conestoga's definitions of 'abortion-inducing,' making part of their objections to the contraception mandate moot," Stanley writes, adding that while an updated label would not influence the Supreme Court's decision -- because the justices are weighing "whether their religious exercise rights are substantially burdened, and whether corporations are entitled to religious rights at all" -- it "would help us all if FDA got the facts straight" (Stanley, Daily Beast, 3/22).
~ New York Times: "The legal question" in the cases "is whether the contraception coverage rule violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which says government may not 'substantially burden a person's free exercise of religion' unless the burden is necessary to further a 'compelling government interest' and does so by 'the least restrictive means,'" a Times editorial states. The editorial argues that there "are several reasons why the court should find that the law does not apply, starting with the fact that secular, for-profit corporations are not 'persons' capable of prayer or other religious behavior" and that exempting corporations from laws would allow "shareholders to pass their religious values to the corporation." In addition, the "claim that the contraceptive coverage rules put a 'substantial burden' on religious exercise is very weak," considering that an employee's personal decision to use contraception does not affect the owners, who "remain free to worship as they choose" and espouse their opinions on contraception. The government, on the other hand, has a "'compelling' interest in reducing the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions, and in furthering women's health and equality" and has implemented the rule in the least restrictive way possible, according to the Times (New York Times, 3/22).
~ Walter Dellinger, Washington Post: "Some of the arguments" in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga cases "exhibit the same conflation of methods of contraception that afflicted" the Supreme Court justices in the 1965 case Griswold vs. Connecticut, which struck down laws criminalizing contraception, writes Dellinger, an attorney who co-authored an amicus brief in support of the contraceptive coverage rules. For example, the companies' argument that 89% of women at risk of unintended pregnancy are already using contraceptives -- therefore suggesting that denying insurance coverage would not be a "significant imposition" on employees -- "fails to account for the fact that some methods of contraception are far more costly and far more effective than others," Dellinger argues. He writes, "For all women, denying practical access to the method of contraception that is right for their health and life circumstances, as well as the well-being of their families, can represent a serious incursion into their individual moral autonomy," adding that this understanding "should lead the court to reject claims of religious entitlement that so greatly burden the interests of others" (Dellinger, Washington Post, 3/23).