Reproductive Health Watch: The Hobby Lobby Case

Today is the first day the Supreme Court will hear arguments for the Hobby Lobby case.  For those unfamiliar, Hobby Lobby is an arts and crafts store (think Michael’s or Joann Fabrics) run by a very religious family.  For the most part, they treat their workers quite well, they aren’t open on Sundays, and their base pay is almost twice the federal minimum wage, and they offer health insurance and dental.

However, it’s their health insurance policy that has taken them all the way to the SCOTUS.  Under the ACA, or Obamacare, companies must offer a healthcare plan that includes contraception coverage.  It should be noted that the idea of having health insurance plans cover contraception is not a new one, and before the ACA was even implemented, 28 states already had similar laws on the books.

What’s the deal with birth control?

To put it simply, birth control is a matter of public health.  Many women take birth control for a variety of health reasons:  it helps those who have debilitating periods, making them shorter and less painful.  It is commonly perscribed for endometriosis, which is a condition where the uterine lining grows outside of the uterus.  This is a serious disorder that is often quite painful, and can result in infertility if it goes untreated. Studies have also shown that it can help in preventing female cancers:

Taking oral contraceptives (OCs) can slash your risk for both endometrial and ovarian cancer by more than 70 percent after 12 years; even just one to five years may lower your risk by 40 percent.

Even if women are “just” taking it for the purpose of preventing pregnancy, that is a major health benefit within itself.  Birth control allows women to space out their pregnancies, which is very important because becoming pregnant quickly after giving birth comes with many health risks for both mother and baby.  According to mayoclinic.org:

Limited research suggests that a pregnancy within 12 months of giving birth is associated with an increased risk of:

  • The placenta partially or completely peeling away from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery (placental abruption)
  • The placenta attaching to the lower part of the uterine wall, partially or totally covering the cervix (placenta previa), in women who previously had a C-section

A 2011 study also suggests a link between pregnancy intervals of less than 12 months and autism risk in second-born children.

In addition, a pregnancy within 18 months of giving birth is associated with an increased risk of:

  • Low birth weight
  • Small size for gestational age
  • Preterm birth
  • Uterine rupture in women who attempt vaginal birth after a C-section (VBAC)

And even if we ignore the many health benefits of birth control, it also is a major money saver for our country.  It’s estimated that birth control saves about $18 billion (yes, billion with a B) a year in medical expenses.  Birth control is good for women, it’s good for children, and it’s good for our country.

So what’s the problem?

The Hobby Lobby corporation does not want to comply with the birth control mandate because they feel doing so would violate their religious beliefs.  The types of contraception they are specifically pointing to are Plan B, Ella, and two IUDs.

Plan B and Ella are two forms of emergency contraception.  They work in the same way the birth control pill does, by preventing ovulation (the egg being released).  The purpose is to take it after you have had unprotected sex in the hopes of preventing fertilization.  Also, Plan B has been approved by the FDA to sell over the counter, which means it’s available without a prescription from your doctor like aspirin or vicks.

IUDs is short for intrauterine device, which is a long acting form of birth control.  They are a small T-shaped device that is made from either plastic or copper and inserted into the uterus.  Depending on the specific IUD, they can prevent pregnancy anywhere from 5 to 12 years.  The plastic IUD works essentially in the same manner as the birth control pill, by releasing a steady stream of hormones in order to prevent ovulation.  The copper IUD works by interfering with how sperm move, making them unable to fertilize the egg.  These are a great alternative for women who have adverse reactions to hormonal birth control.  Unfortunately, many women are not able to get IUDs because of the great upfront cost (it can be up to $1000) which is part of the reason why it’s so important for insurance to cover it.

So, now that we know a bit more about the specific types of birth control Hobby Lobby is opposing, we are still left with the burning question:  What’s the problem? According to Hobby Lobby, their

“religious beliefs prohibit them from providing health coverage for contraceptive drugs and devices that end human life after conception”

Now wait a minute, you may be thinking, but Natalina, you didn’t say anything about ending human life after conception.  That’s absolutely correct, dear reader, because it doesn’t.  The idea of IUDs or emergency contraception somehow preventing a fertilized egg from implanting has been debunked!  According to a 2011 study  women who took emergency contraception after they had ovulated (the egg has already been released) became pregnant at the same rate as those who had not taken any emergency contraception.  This was the same result that had been achieved by a 2007 study.  After scouring pubmed I could not find a single study that indicated emergency contraception or IUDs worked post ovulation.  This leads me to believe that this entire case is rested on junk science and misinformation.

To make matters worse, it’s not just your birth control that Hobby Lobby is after, they also are opposed to specific conversations with your doctor.  Remember that quote above?  Well it goes on even further:

“provide health insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs and devices, as well as related education and counseling.”

Now I’m not entirely sure how this works, but if I were to go in for a preventative pap smear and discuss with my physician that I want birth control, will that visit not be covered by insurance?  This takes the idea of having the workplace in your healthcare way out of line.  Workers should not have to fear what they talk about with their doctors, just because some CEO has a moral objection to birth control.

Final thoughts

As SCOTUS listens to arguments today, I can only hope that they take into consideration the health of the women in this country.  The entire point of Obamacare was to help end healthcare discrimination of the young, people with prexisting conditions, or those who could not afford decent healthcare.  If the SCOTUS sides with Hobby Lobby, they will effectively make it legal for corporations to discriminate against women by failing to provide them effective health insurance plans.  All of the medical and scientific information we have points to contraception being a necessity for preventive healthcare.  In fact, it’s been proposed that by increasing the number of women using long acting birth control such as IUDs could be instrumental in meeting the Healthy People 2020 goal set by the Department of Health and Human Services.  So, for the health of our nation’s women and children do not support Hobby Lobby’s draconian positions.

Natalina graduated from the University of North Dakota with a BA in English and minor in Gender and Women's Studies. She is currently pursuing her medical degree in Iowa. She is a sexual assault and domestic violence victim advocate as well as a LGBT activist. She is very interested in feminism and pop culture. When she is not in school or online she is spending time with her husband, playing video games, or playing with her 2 cats.
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