The Supreme Court decided the Hobby Lobby case today. The Court ruled that Hobby Lobby doesn’t have to provide birth control through its company health plan. According to the Court, there were other ways to ensure that women who worked for the company had access to contraception—ways less burdensome to the religious liberties of the company’s owners. There’s a quick summary here.
Physician and health policy expert Aaron Carroll analyzes the implication for access to contraception here. As he points out, Hobby Lobby doesn’t object to providing all forms of contraception—only those that can prevent fertilized eggs from implanting or prevent implanted. In Hobby Lobby’s view, that includes two forms of IUD and the morning-after pill. As they see it, those methods of birth control produce very early abortions.
I’m going to concede, at least for argument’s sake, that Hobby Lobby is within its rights to refuse to finance abortions in any form, even under the guise of birth control. I’m interested in a different issue. Carroll points out that the best evidence doesn’t support Hobby Lobby’s view about the facts. The best evidence says that neither the IUD nor the morning-after pill work by destroying an already-fertilized egg. In other words, as near as we can tell, neither IUDs nor the morning-after pill cause abortions. Carroll goes on to say
Regardless of the data, or lack of it, many still believe that these forms of contraception are different than others. Today, the Supreme Court gave those beliefs weight. This seems likely to make it harder for women to get contraception in the future.
Let’s divide the issue. Hobby Lobby has religious objections to abortion in any form and claims a right not to help pay for it. Hobby Lobby (by way of its owners) also has a factual belief: IUDs and morning-after pills cause abortions. This second belief isn’t a religious belief, and the best evidence we have suggests that it’s simply wrong. My question, then: how much weight should the Court give to this belief? How much weight should attach to the fact that the plaintiffs think these forms of birth control cause abortions? Is it enough that they believe sincerely that it’s true? Would that be enough no matter how unlikely that it’s actually true? Or is the Court majority in effect weighing in on a scientific question? If so, on what basis? And what about other cases where a sincere religious belief gets coupled to a mistake about the facts? Does the religious belief turn into a protective shield for the factual confusion? Would non-religious moral convictions work the same way? If not, why not?
This is hardly the most important issue in the Hobby Lobby case but it bothers me. Protecting religious freedom is one thing. Protecting the right to burden others with your probably-mistaken view of the facts is another. Has anyone had anything useful to say about this?