Crazy Town

07.02.14

Hobby Lobby: Sex, Lies, and Craft Supplies

Conservatives are making five arguments hailing the decision. They’re all factually wrong, which leads them to the sixth: women are sluts.

It’s understandable that conservatives are gloating. In one fell swoop, the Supreme Court has constrained government power, expanded corporate rights, and protected religious tyranny. That individual rights were also destroyed doesn’t seem to bother conservatives very much, as the rights in question mainly concern women who have sex for reasons other than procreation. As Erin Gloria Ryan put it in her brilliant satirical response to the ruling, “Corporations are people, my friend. Women? Not so much.”

But rather than quietly crawling back to their smoke-filled rooms and peyote-perfumed pews to celebrate, conservatives have remained on the attack, spreading overt misinformation about the ruling and its implications and smearing women’s health advocates who dare to argue. Here, for your reference, is a discussion based loosely on “questions” from my Twitter feed and those of other women writing about this case over the last few days.

“Birth control is cheap.”

Hobby Lobby was about four forms of contraception that are not cheap (PDF). Plan B costs $35 to $60. Ella costs around $55. An IUD costs anywhere from $500 to $1,000. As the Notorious RBG (known to some as Ruth Bader Ginsburg) pointed out in her scathing 35-page dissent, “the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.” Similarly, for someone making $7 an hour — even if she’s lucky enough to get 40 hours of shifts in a week, which is rare — the cost of Plan B or Ella is roughly 10 percent of her take-home pay before taxes

And women use contraceptive medicines and devices for all kinds of reasons, not just contraception. Approximately 1.5 million women use various forms of birth control to help with medical issues such as ovarian cancer, cysts, and endometriosis. But more importantly, for these women and all women, the choice of whether to use birth control and if so, what form, should be up to them in consultation with their doctors. 

“But Hobby Lobby pays its workers more than the minimum wage.”

Yes! That’s true, Hobby Lobby pays its workers at least $14 an hour, which is great. God bless them! But you do realize this case applies to companies other than just Hobby Lobby, right? In fact, “closely held corporations,” which can now under the ruling assert religious rights, account for 90 percent of all American businesses, employing more than half of American workers. And newsflash, a lot of those businesses do not pay $14 an hour or anywhere near it. 

“Whatever, Hobby Lobby still covers 14 other kinds of contraception.”

Funny thing, it actually provided all 20 until the lawyers behind the Hobby Lobby case contacted the company to see if they wanted to file suit. It was only then that the company discovered its insurance plan covered Plan B, and the two IUDs at issue—and then stopped covering them. And then Hobby Lobby sued the government for making it do something that up until that moment it had been doing on its own. Even today, Hobby Lobby’s 401(k) plan still invests not only in the manufacturers of these forms of birth control but also companies that make drugs used in medical abortions.

All of that being said, again, a reminder is in order that the Hobby Lobby case applies to many other companies. For instance, the owners of Freshway Foods in Sidney, Ohio, object to covering all forms of birth control, citing their Catholic faith. The conservative legal advocacy organization behind the Hobby Lobby suit lists 49 other pending cases of for-profit companies suing to restrict contraceptive access. 

“Certain kinds of contraception are ‘abortifacients’ and against faith.”

Where to begin… Well, for starters, there’s a completely unquestioned assumption baked into the Supreme Court ruling that objecting to abortion itself is an inherently religious proposition. It is arguably not.  According to polls, over one-third of Catholics and other Christians say they are pro-choice. In fact, there are active organizations of pro-choice Catholics.  Being anti-abortion is arguably not a core Christian conviction on the same level as, say, believing that Jesus is the son of God—an actual, literal Biblical teaching that over 90 percent of Christians say they believe (PDF). But the Supreme Court oddly never questions that.

What the majority ruling also doesn’t question is Hobby Lobby’s assertion that Plan B, Ella, and IUDs are “abortofacients.” This is unquestionably, factually wrong. Even if you believe that preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg constitutes abortion (itself a hotly debated issue even among anti-abortion adherents), there is very little evidence that these forms of contraception work that way. Every scientific and medical study says so, as does the FDA. In fact, says Susan Wood, a former assistant commissioner at the FDA, these medicines’ “only connection to abortion is that they can prevent the need for one.”

In other words, it’s unimaginably problematic that a group of people — whether as individuals or as a corporation — could go to the highest court in our land and assert complete and utter untruths as fact under the cloak of “religious beliefs.” What’s next? Asserting a “religious belief” that carbon emissions don’t cause climate change? Or a “religious belief” that equal pay hurts women? You can laugh and say something about facts, but the Supreme Court literally just ruled that facts don’t matter.

“This is a victory for religious freedom.”

No, this is a victory for corporate greed digging its claws into whatever façade of a rationalization it can get within its grasp. Don’t listen to me, listen to Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals: “When anyone can use religion to claim an exemption on anything, religion loses meaning. Rather than a personal belief embedded in our souls, faith would become a set of arbitrary rules any corporation could choose from to skirt the law.”

Moreover, Cizik warns, this “puts government in charge of deciding what is or isn’t religion.” That doesn’t sound very free, does it?

If I were the religious faithful, I would be fairly annoyed at 90 percent of corporate America chomping at the bit to use my deeply held values as an excuse for their own misdeeds. Also, while the Bible does not take a firm position on abortion or when life begins, Jesus is pretty clear on one point: “You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13 and Matthew 6:24). It’s as though Jesus was writing for the dissent in Hobby Lobby against companies that are literally trying to have it both ways, to claim the benefits of for-profit corporate legal structures while asserting the privileges of individual faith. 

Ensuring that all women have access to contraceptive choices is about safeguarding public health and the rights of women, not encroaching on religious freedom. Don’t like Plan B? You don’t have to use it. But what the Hobby Lobby ruling does is not only allow “religious employers” to impose their views on their employees but to use their “religious freedom” to discriminate against the freedom of women who work for them. That may not seem like a big deal now when it’s just the rights of women being trampled. But wait until men are affected, for instance when—as Justice Ginsburg warns—“religious employers” object to “blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others.).”

“Whore.”

Which brings us to the sad reality that when defeated on every plane of fact and logic, conservatives resort to name calling. Since the Hobby Lobby ruling was announced, women’s health advocates and women journalists writing about the decision have been smeared as sluts and whores — along with, by implication, all women who want birth control. As MSNBC’s Irin Carmon tweeted: “This is totally not about sex because none of the women writing about this case are being called whores oh wait we all are.” My friend, Guardian columnist and feminist author Jessica Valenti, was called a “CLASSLESS WOMEN [sic] WHO TAKES PANTS DOWN.” My friend Jill Filipovic, feminist columnist for Cosmopolitan, was called a whore. This is just a very small and selective sampling. 

Ilyse Hogue, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America, tweeted about how all the “hateful misogyny” in her feed since the decision has left her with a “deep appreciation” for men who support and empower the women around them. Yes, that. 

But this slut-shaming is extremely disturbing. Never mind that 99 percent of American women (PDF) have used birth control at some point in their lives (and 1 in 3 will have abortions). Women have sex. Even poor women. Some might even call that freedom. Valenti points out that in one brief filed supporting Hobby Lobby’s suit, a male lawyer argues, “since sexual relations are basically a voluntary activity. ... [S]ex is only a human want (like bowling or stamp collecting), not an actual need.” Oh, okay then... And yet Hobby Lobby still covers Viagra and vasectomies. And I don’t hear any conservatives attacking men who use those medicines or procedures as “sluts.”