When my son was a baby, I took him to an abortion rights rally, his—and my—first public demonstration. With rosy cheeks and golden curls, he was the cutest protestor at the Utah State Capitol. As a new mom, I was struck every day with how marvelous it was to be a parent, to drink in every laugh and coo and smile, to adore and protect such a wonder. I was fortunate to have been ready and able to take care of an infant when Matt was born–and I knew it. Shouldn’t every baby be a loved and wanted baby? How could that happen if women couldn’t make their own reproductive choices?
Utah legislators were debating a bill that would make most abortion illegal, and I was appalled at their arrogance. Who were they to make decisions about who could have babies and when? Of course, Utah went on to pass what was at the time the most restrictive abortion law in the country, prohibiting nearly all elective abortions and making performing abortions a Class III felony. The law was ruled unconstitutional in 1992, but in the following two decades, Utah and other conservative states would develop creative strategies that simply reduce access by requiring waiting periods, mandatory counseling and invasive exams, and regulations that effectively shut down clinics. In just the last three years there have been over 200 state-level restrictions on access to abortion. That’s all state moralizing with a lot of religious intrusion. But the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing Hobby Lobby to evade health insurance coverage of some forms of birth control added an infuriating new twist to abortion politics: a legal decision that refutes science in favor of unsubstantiated beliefs.
Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties argued that the Affordable Care Act provision that employers provide their employees with health insurance coverage for contraception violated their religious beliefs. Specifically, they believe that four types of contraception are abortifacients, and that requiring the companies to pay for coverage of these contraceptive methods presented a substantial burden by forcing them to violate their “deeply held religious beliefs.” They believe that any contraceptive method that may result in the loss of a fertilized egg is a form of abortion and thus forbidden by their faith, that birth control pills or intrauterine devices that prevent an egg from implanting in a uterus are abortion agents.
Neither science nor the legal or medical definition of abortion support this view. Abortion terminates a pregnancy. A fertilized egg, whether it’s in a Petri dish or a Fallopian tube, is not a pregnancy. You can believe it’s a pregnancy or a child or a cucumber, but that doesn’t make it one. And yet, five Supreme Court justices waltzed right by that fact to rule in favor of belief and science denial and against the health care needs of women. It may not sound as absurd as Representative Todd Akin’s declaration that a woman can’t get pregnant during a “legitimate rape,” and it’s not the only time science has been flouted in reproductive health policy, but the Hobby Lobby case sets a frightening precedent that science doesn’t matter. What it means is that women don’t matter and neither do babies.