More Misinterpretations of Hobby Lobby

Hobby Lobby was never so much about the principled Constitutional issue of whether there is a right to conscientious objection (be they based on religious or scientific convictions) as much as a prop in the melodramatic political “war on women” by which some cynically hope to save at least a pro-abortion Senate majority in the last two years of Barack Obama’s presidency. One might even say that they secretly welcomed it: had the decision gone the other way, what would they talk about? Barring corporate political contributions just isn’t as sexy (and would not be expected to garner as many votes) as “defending the Pill” against Wall Street (or Oklahoma City) employers “in your bedroom.”

That, of course, is the current line of the media elite repeated recently by Gail Collins in her September 6 New York Times column “Passion for the Pill,” in which she suggests that Republicans who want to win in November will have to pledge loyalty to “birth control.” Given the flood of ink spilled in the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision one hesitates to contribute to the deluge, but the absence of certain themes in that commentary demand a few thoughts:

(1) Hobby Lobby is not about contraception.
Despite the drum beat about “contraception,” Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. is about abortifacients. Now, except in some Catholic circles, the word “abortifacient” is rarely seen. When most people think of “abortion,” they think of a surgical procedure but, very early term, there are drugs and devices which function after conception (at least in some instances). They do not prevent conception (i.e., function as contraceptives). They prevent the unborn child that has been conceived from developing further (i.e., function as pharmaceutical or mechanical abortifacients). That distinction is critical, and it has been largely ignored. At least those who say Hobby Lobby is about “birth control” are more accurate, since “birth control” by definition “controls” (i.e., prevents) births. “Birth control” encompasses contraceptives and abortifacients. Contraception does not.

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(2) “Pregnancy” has become an equivocal term.
As most people understand it, a woman becomes a mother, i.e., becomes “pregnant,” when she conceives a child. That is the popular and commonplace meaning of “pregnancy.” But, as Human Life Review frequent contributor Paul Greenberg once observed, “verbicide precedes homicide.” We know how that has played out in the abortion debate (consider, in his 2013 paean to Planned Parenthood, Barack Obama managed to laud their multi-million dollar abortion business without once using the “a” word). The same dissimulating word game is in play with “pregnancy.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists summarily redefined the term “pregnancy” to begin at implantation, i.e., when the unborn child attaches himself to the uterus wall, up to 20 days after fertilization. (In fact, ACOG also defines “conception” as implantation, not—as most people and reality would—as the union of the ovum and the sperm. Such unilateral moving of the goalposts thus allows those who play these word games to call early-term abortifacients “contraceptives.” (See the Guttmacher Institute website, especially the note “Language Matters,” obviously relevant to the current trend of abortionists to evade even their term, “choice.”) So, when opponents of Hobby Lobby speak of various abortifacients as “contraceptives,” they are using a word game to obfuscate just when these “contraceptives” work, i.e., after conception. This process is nothing new: it was launched back in the 1980s, after the Reagan landslide of 1980 brought in the first Republican Senate since Roe and hope appeared that the decision might be peeled back.

(3) Implantation is no magic moment.
Let’s assume, however (dato non concesso) that reality can be changed by unilaterally changing of definitions. What happens at implantation that qualitatively changes the unborn child? The answer is: nothing. Implantation is a developmental stage, which can occur between a week and three weeks after conception. The embryo has been moving from the fallopian tubes to the uterus, where he will implant in the uterine wall and develop there until birth. That stage is necessary for his continued development, but does not change the child. No new DNA. No new genetic code. The unborn child after implantation is no different than before implantation (except that he has reached a new stage of development necessary to his survival).

This is patently different from the unborn child who is different—genetically—after conception from the sperm and ovum that existed before conception. The sperm and egg no longer exist after conception: they have become something new. The unborn child did not exist before conception: he is distinct from what preceded him. No analogous change occurs at implantation. If we accept the argument that reality depends on definitions (and not vice versa) then, if “pregnancy” really exists only after implantation, then when a mother aborts are we to say there was no pregnancy? Such redefinition, carried to its logical end, makes us face an interesting conundrum: abortion actually never requires a “pregnancy” because if successfully passing through developmental stages is sine qua non to a pregnancy, then a successful abortion (which abridges that development) means not just that the woman is no longer pregnant but arguably never was pregnant. It is obvious the extremes to which such standing of language on its head leads.

Hobby Lobby raised important religious freedom issues, but we would be doing the litigants and the unborn a disservice if we were to let the debate over the decision and the Obamacare abortifacient mandate turn purely on religious freedom issues. What Obamacare did (and continues trying to do) is undermine federal policy—in place since the Hyde Amendment in the 1970s and held constitutional in Beal v. Doe (432 U.S. 478)—that while a woman may have a right to have an abortion, she did not have a right to have another person (be that a taxpayer or a private person) pay for it. Or, as one tweeter succinctly observed about the canard of “bosses in the bedroom”:

“Get your politics out of my bedroom!”  “Not a problem.  I’m just going to grab my wallet before I leave.”  “The wallet stays, bigot!”

(Photo Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP)


  • John M. Grondelski

    John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is a former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are his own.

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