Later this month, the highest court in the United States will hear two religious challenges to Obamacare’s contraceptive coverage requirement. The owners of two for-profit companies, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, are arguing that they should be exempt from providing this type of coverage to their female employees because they have religious objections to birth control.
The Supreme Court is taking up the highly-anticipated case on March 25, and the dispute largely centers on a few basic facts about birth control that Obamacare opponents are misrepresenting. Here’s what you should keep in mind as this debate heats up over the next several weeks:
1. Emergency contraception is not the same thing as abortion.
At the heart of the religious objection to contraceptive coverage is the incorrect assertion that Obamacare covers “abortion-inducing drugs.” Abortion opponents believe that life begins at fertilization, and claim that some types of birth control — specifically, the “morning after pill,” or emergency contraception — work by destroying a fertilized egg. But major medical groups actually define life as beginning at implantation, when a fertilized egg attaches to the uterine lining. This is the legal definition of pregnancy that has been accepted for decades. Scientists agree that contraceptive methods prevent pregnancy by interfering with ovulation, fertilization, or implantation.
Even if conservatives still want to quibble about implantation, there’s scientific evidence that emergency contraception doesn’t actually disrupt this process.
2. Birth control has positive health benefits for millions of women.
Many of the briefs filed in support of Hobby Lobby are explicit about the apparent harm that will come to women and their families if they opt to use birth control. Opponents of Obamacare’s birth control provision argue that “pregnancy is not a disease” and birth control coverage isn’t a necessity. But this position ignores the very real positive benefits of modern contraception, and the government’s interest in expanding this service to as many people as possible.
Nearly 100 percent of U.S. women have used birth control at some point in their lives. Preventing unintended pregnancies keeps women and their babies healthy, saves the government money, and helps women achieve financial success. Obviously, greater access to birth control also reduces women’s need for abortion services. Nearly 60 percent of women have used contraception for a medical reason other than avoiding a pregnancy, too. Birth control can help prevent painful menstrual cramps, treat ovarian cysts, and lower some women’s risk of certain types of cancer.
3. Free birth control does not lead women to have risky sex.
A common theme emerges among many of the briefs filed against the contraceptive mandate. Many of the arguments are grounded in the claim that contraception harms society by leading to promiscuity and infidelity. This has been a central component of the pushback to Obamacare outside of the courtroom, too. For instance, after Sandra Fluke testified in favor of the law’s birth control coverage, conservatives bashed her for being a “slut” who wanted the government to finance her sex life.
But there’s absolutely no evidence to support this myth about female sexuality. In fact, a recent study published in the Obstetrics & Gynecology journal tracked the sexual activity of thousands of low-income women who participated in a program that offered no-cost contraception, and found they weren’t any more likely to practice risky sex. The study’s authors confirmed to Media Matters that they wanted to study the supposed “link” between birth control and promiscuity to provide some data for the unsubstantiated claims swirling around this Obamacare provision.
4. Most religious women use birth control.
The “religious liberty” arguments in the upcoming Supreme Court case actually represent an extremely unorthodox definition of that term. By arguing that for-profit companies should have the right to deny coverage for specific health services from their female employees, these businesses are essentially using religion as a cloak to avoid following the law. “Religious liberty is not about harming others and imposing your religion on them,” Sharon Levin, the director of federal reproductive rights policy for the National Women’s Law Center, told ThinkProgress in a recent interview.
Furthermore, religion is not inherently in conflict with contraception. Most religious Americans use birth control at the same rates as non-religious Americans do, including among the people who frequently attend church services. More than 80 percent of Catholics believe that birth control is “morally acceptable.” And not all church groups are opposed to this aspect of the health law. “In real-life America, contraceptive use and strong religious beliefs are highly compatible,” Rachel K. Jones, a researcher with the Guttmacher Institute, points out.