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July 1, 2014

The wait is over, and one of the most hotly-contested debates of our modern day has been resolved. By a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Hobby Lobby (and Conestoga Wood) cannot be forced by the Affordable Care Act to provide certain contraceptives to its employees. If you have been confused by the intense discussion, here are some implications of this latest ruling.

What types of birth control did the companies object to?

At issue were not just contraceptives in general (for example, Romans Catholics object to most forms of birth control on the basis of natural law). Specifically, the two companies  oppose the use of Plan B and ella, the two most common forms of “emergency contraception,” as well as the copper IUD (intrauterine device), a common  long term birth control method. The reason for their opposition stems from their view that protectable human life begins at conception. After fertilization in the fallopian tube, it takes 6-1/2 days for a new embryo to travel down the tube for implantation into the uterus. The three methods cited may act, in part, to prevent implantation. This makes them immoral from a pro-life standpoint.

Is this objection based on scientific facts?

This is a complex question, and the answer is clouded in rhetoric and obfuscation. First of all, FDA-approved language on websites and in drug inserts would imply that prevention of implantation is a possible mechanism of action of the methods in question. Now, the actual evidence is disputed, and some recent studies imply that the concern about Plan B may be misplaced. Nonetheless, even if this is not scientifically true, the government seems to believe it as well, and doesn’t care. Former Health and Human Services Secretary Katherine Sebelius said in 2011, “The Food and Drug Administration has a category [of drugs] that prevent fertilization and implantation. That’s really the scientific definition.”

What rights are at stake here?

The ACA mandate to cover contraception tramples on the rights of religiously-informed employers to act in ways consistent with their values. This is a religious-liberty issue, and has widespread implications for many other conflicts over conscience rights, including the right of healthcare professionals to refuse to participate in abortion, or for pro-life pharmacists to refuse to dispense drugs for assisted suicide.

What does the future hold?

Despite this victory, look for further attempts by the government to encroach on freedom of conscience and freedom of religious expression.

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