As part of the Affordable Care Act, most insurance plans must provide certain preventive care services for free to beneficiaries. The Obama administration included all FDA-approved contraceptives for women as part of these preventative services. At issue is whether or not for-profit companies should have to provide contraceptives to women if it goes against the religious beliefs of the owners of those companies.
While some non-profit and religious organizations are exempt from this mandate, the law doesn’t allow for-profit companies to be exempt. The owners of Conestoga Wood and Hobby Lobby (both for-profit companies) say they have no problem offering birth control to women, but they do have issue with certain types of birth control. They’re specifically against providing emergency contraceptives such as Plan B and Ella, which can prevent pregnancy when taken after a sperm and egg have united. They argue their religious freedom is being violated because they view this specific type of birth control as an abortion. Since emergency contraceptives are able to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting into the uterus of a women, they consider using them the same as a very early stage abortion.
While the two companies’ owners consider this abortion, the majority of the medical and scientific communities don’t. As part of the lawsuit, ten medical groups, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, submitted a brief that states, “There is a scientific distinction between a contraceptive and an abortifacient and the scientific record demonstrates that none of the FDA-approved contraceptives covered by the Mandate are abortifacients.” They hold this view since the medical and scientific communities usually define pregnancy beginning at the time a fertilized egg implants in a woman’s uterus. This is the conflict which the Supreme Court must decide.
If the court rules in favor of Conestoga Wood and Hobby Lobby, and for-profit companies can decide to opt-out of providing no-cost birth control, it could have big financial consequences for women and families. For those women who can afford birth control, it would simply mean paying more out of pocket for this service. For those who can’t afford birth control on their own, however, it could mean an unwanted pregnancy and the huge cost of a raising a baby for the entire family. While the financial implications aren’t the main focus of the debate, they certainly will come into play for a large number of families if the for-profit companies win the case.
Arguments for both sides have already been made to the Supreme Court, and a decision on these cases is expected later this month.
(Photo courtesy of Nicholas Eckhart)