One of the criticisms of the recent decision by the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case is that it wasn’t based on science.  In other words, Hobby Lobby’s objections to several of the birth control options that the Affordable Care Act requires them to cover are scientifically incorrect.  That criticism would have some weight, I suppose, if Hobby Lobby was basing its objections to the birth control on its beliefs in science, and was claiming that the HHS was using bad science in reaching its decisions on which birth control methods to cover.  Since Hobby Lobby, and the other plaintiffs, were basing their arguments on religious freedom and not on science, that argument doesn’t really hold any water.

The plaintiffs in the Hobby Lobby case were opposed to providing four types of birth control that they considered to be abortifacients because of the way that these particular types of birth control work is to prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg.  As a side note, all forms of hormonal contraception, not just the ones Hobby Lobby objects to, can work to prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg. Some forms also work to prevent ovulation as well, but if that fails and an egg is released and is fertilized, the hormonal contraception works to create an environment that is hostile to the fertilized egg.  Those who criticize the Hobby Lobby case on the basis of science argue that  human life doesn’t begin until implantation.  Therefore, if implantation is prevented, there is no pregnancy and these forms of birth control can’t be considered to be abortifacients.  The owners of Hobby Lobby (and many, many, other people, including scientists!), argue that human life begins when the egg is fertilized because that is when a unique DNA that has never before existed is created, and when the fertilized egg begins to divide and grow.  Therefore, preventing the egg from implanting would constitute an abortion.

The plaintiffs in Hobby Lobby argued that forcing it to provide these types of birth control violated their religious freedom, since they are opposed to abortion.  When considering whether or not a plaintiff’s claim should succeed under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the court has to look at whether or not the plaintiffs have a “sincere religious belief.”  In answering this question, the court doesn’t look at whether or not the belief is scientifically accurate, rather, the court looks at whether the belief is religious in nature, or whether it is based “purely on secular philosophical concerns.”  U.S. v. Zimmerman,  514 F.3d 851, 854 (9th Cir. 2007).  In fact, even if a belief isn’t central to a particular religion and is  “not acceptable, logical, consistent, or comprehensible to others,” it’s still protected by RFRA as long as it’s religious in nature.  Zimmerman, 514 F.3d at 853.

The Hobby Lobby plaintiffs clearly based their objections on their religious belief that all life should be protected from the moment of conception.  Whether or not that is the generally accepted scientific view isn’t really the issue.  I think that whether or not one agrees on the other questions at stake in this case (e.g. whether or not Hobby Lobby can be considered a person, whether or not the HHS mandate is narrowly tailored means), everyone should be able to agree on that.

 

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