Q: What Did Hobby Lobby Win? A: Many More Abortions

The numbers don’t lie: Opposing the Affordable Care Act will lead to an increase in the number of abortions.

Baptist Christian ethicist David Gushee wrote a helpful summary and analysis of the Hobby Lobby case just adjudicated by the Supreme Court. He predicted that what a win for Hobby Lobby really ensures is that the religious convictions of the one (business owner/family) trumps the needs and convictions of the many (everyone who works for that business.)

Clearly, I don’t consider today’s decision a win. But it is this question posed by Dr. Gushee that has especially kept me thinking and rings even more loudly this day:

Are critics taking seriously the public health benefits of no-cost contraception coverage, and the moral benefits of the likely dramatic reduction in the number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions? Or does their principled objection to contraception and/or (perceived) abortifacients totally trump data related to the actual impact of no-cost access to contraception?

Let’s even take his question a step further. Even if Roe v. Wade were overturned and abortion criminalized, what is the most effective route to reducing the number of abortions in the US? The Guttmacher Institute recently released new 2014 stats on this very question:

– Four states have laws that automatically ban abortion if Roe were to be overturned.

– Eleven states retain their unenforced, pre-Roe abortion bans.

– Eight states have laws that express their intent to restrict the right to legal abortion to the maximum extent permitted by the U.S. Supreme Court in the absence of Roe.

Here are those 19 states (some meet more than one of the criteria above) with their recent average number of abortions per year:

Alabama: 9,550

Arizona: 16,100

Arkansas: 4,370

Delaware: 5,090

Illinois: 44,580

Kansas: 6,940

Kentucky: 3,970

Louisiana: 12,210

Massachusetts: 24,030

Michigan: 29,190

Mississippi: 2,220

Missouri: 5,820

New Mexico: 5,180

North Dakota: 1,250

Ohio: 28,590

Oklahoma: 5,860

South Dakota: 600

West Virginia: 2,390

Wisconsin: 7,640

Since the 215,580 abortions performed in these 19 states represented about twenty percent of the nation’s 1.06 million total US abortions, we could predict that if conservatives succeed in overturning Roe v. Wade, abortions will be reduced by up to 20 percent (presuming criminalization works, of course). That does seem like a solid win for those opposing abortion.

But that anticipated 20 percent reduction pales in comparison to the anticipated 75 percent reduction in abortion that would come about by making contraception available as part of health care policies provided by the ACA, according to a recent study.

The ethics behind the Hobby Lobby case are complex, as are the politics. But it’s hard to question two facts:

1. Providing contraception (along with other basic health care) reduces abortion very significantly.

2. Providing contraception reduces abortion far more significantly than criminalizing abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade.

To put a point on it: By opposing the inclusion of contraception in health care, conservatives who support today’s Hobby Lobby decision and oppose the ACA are actually choosing to increase the number of abortions.

If they say that they oppose free contraception on other grounds, such as that it encourages promiscuity, a recent study found that, too, is not the case.

Are conservative Evangelicals and Catholics who toe this line of thinking actually considering these realities when they oppose the ACA and celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby? Are they making a tough ethical choice — allowing more abortions as a necessary cost of achieving other goals they care about even more?

Is a win for small-government libertarianism more important than reducing the number of abortions? Is defeating a key Obama Administration achievement worth reducing abortions by 20 percent instead of 75 percent? Is a symbolic act — whether it’s overturning Roe v. Wade or winning the Hobby Lobby case — more important than actually reducing the number of abortions?

I’m afraid many people have accepted a package of political and economic ideology that’s wrapped in a deceptive anti-abortion wrapper. That wrapper distracts them from discovering what really makes a difference in reducing the number of abortions.

The opinions in this piece belong to the author. 


Brian D. McLaren
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  • Marilyn Gardner

    As a public health nurse working for the state of Massachusetts in women’s health I don’t deny the absolute importance of contraception coverage. To be truly accurate to the case, all forms of contraception are offered under the insurance plans of Hobby Lobby except Plan B emergency contraception and IUDs. While this may seem like a petty distinction to some, it is important to this case. I do agree with the overall point you make that contraception is critical to the abortion discussion.

  • Alexander Griswold

    Hobby Lobby provides contraception, and has since before the mandate. They are not anti-contraception, they are opposed to certain forms of contraceptives they believe are abortificants. So telling them to provide those drugs to avoid abortions later in the pregnancy is basically absurd from their perspective. The only outcome would be less abortions YOU find morally unacceptable.

    Also, it is simply false that conservatives oppose “contraception in health care.” They only oppose religious organizations, broadly speaking, being forced to provide them when it violates their values. No conservative I know cares whether a secular organization or a religious organization without any moral qualms provides contraception to its employees.

    If you really want to have a conversation about abortion, consider this: During oral arguments, one Justice straightforwardly asked if the government could force companies to provide abortions. The government said that they could. If Hobby Lobby had lost, what would have prevented a government mandate proscribing abortion coverage, religious objections be damned?

  • Matt Lakemacher

    To call Hobby Lobby (a for-profit corporation) a religious organization is very “broadly speaking,” indeed.

  • Andrew Gabbert

    I got confused. Why would providing contraception reduce the number of abortions? Is it because there would be fewer conceptions?

    • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

      yes. There is some research that indicated free availability of longer term contraceptives (IUD, and some others like Depro) significantly reduce both abortions and unintended pregnancy among low income women. (see study link at the end of the article).

      What is not clear from studies I have seen is increase availability to shorter term contraceptives (pill, condoms). There seems to be some drop in both, but not nearly as significant.

      And many people don’t want long term contraception. So this article is problematic because it is conflating research with people that did want long term contraception (but couldn’t pay for it) with all women whether they wanted long or short term contraception or none at all and without regard to their ability to pay.

  • nwcolorist

    “To put a point on it: By opposing the inclusion of contraception in health care, conservatives who support today’s Hobby Lobby decision and oppose the ACA are actually choosing to increase the number of abortions.”

    This statement is speculation and is at odds with reality. The Guttmacher Institute, which Mr. McLaren so liberally quotes, also states, “In 1996, 1,365,730 abortions were recorded, an increase of well over 100% since 1973, when the annual figure was 615,831, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.” This one sentence basically nullifies the point of the above article, and shows the dishonesty the pro-abortions use to to try to change public opinion.

  • PMurphy

    When did contraceptives (which are widely available and very inexpensive) become “basic health care”?

    • Tom from North Carolina

      Birth control pills and IUDs are not inexpensive. When did contraceptives become part of basic health care? At about the same time that prescriptions for Viagra became covered by basic health care.

      • PMurphy

        A. Birth control pills are available for $9 a month in many pharmacies. By any standard that is inexpensive. An IUD can be implanted for $500, after which it is good for 5-12 years. A bit steeper up front cost, but even less expensive than pills over time.
        B. Nice try with the equivalence argument; however, I’m not interested in being forced to subsidize your Viagra habit either.

        • Tom from North Carolina

          Birth control pills without a health insurance, range from $15 – $50 per month, substantially more than you have concluded and a significant amount for low income women. (Source: Planned parenthood, birth control options).

          IUD costs range from $500 – $900 and you are right, since many cover up to 5 years, is a high upfront cost while relatively inexpensive when prorated over 5 years. The problem again is the up front cost.

          Regarding my use of Viagra — I don’t. I guess it’s just coincidental that Viagra is used by men, benefits men and is typically covered by health care plans that are negotiated by men.

          Speaking as a man, I suspect that if men got pregnant rather than women, there would be no debate at all. All forms of contraception would be covered as would abortion on demand.

          • PMurphy

            Sorry, I don’t believe in taxing citizens to pay for the lifestyle choices of others. Contraceptives and ED pills are not “basic health care”.

          • Tom from North Carolina

            How is employer mandated health care taxing citizens? For 75% of the country, the employer provides health care at no cost to tax payers.

        • Tom from North Carolina

          Your latest comment is being held up because it contains a link embedded in your comment. I’ve found that any embedded URL waits for the moderator forever.

  • Suz Just Suz

    This is not a win for small government libertarianism. Shortly after today’s win it was mentioned on the SCOTUS Blog that it is expected that the Obama Administration will probably create some sort of mandate for the government to absorb the expense to prevent a gap in coverage. That just equates to still more government subsidies of the corporate. It’s a lot like reviling people on food stamps and patronizing and loving the Walmart company that refuses to pay a living wage and makes food stamps for their employees necessary.

    This is NOT small government, it’s small corporate regulation by government. But don’t kid yourself into thinking that Hobby Lobby’s win isn’t going to cost the tax payer.

    As for the “opposed to certain types of ‘abortificients” it’s a bit hard to swallow when their retirement funds had 73 million dollars invested in pharmas that produce the same drugs they claim to be against when they filed the law suit.

  • Peg Stueber

    To be perfectly honest, I’m more than just a little tired of other entities (Insurance Industries, employers, the Gov’t, the Church, the busy-body down the street with an opinion, etc…) getting between myself and my Physician when it comes to the care and maintenance of MY body.

    Medical decisions should be between the Patient and the Physician – not half the damn world. You want to dictate a medical opinion? Get a degree in medicine and hang out your shingle. Otherwise, stick to selling art supplies.

  • Tom from North Carolina

    In reading the Guttmacher study, they concluded that widely available contraception dramatically reduces the incidence of abortion. Quoting from the study: “In contrast, the evidence clearly shows that contraceptive use works. On a personal level, it reduces the probability of having an abortion by an estimated 85%. And at the program level, publicly subsidized family planning services in the United States have been shown to have helped women prevent 20 million pregnancies over the last 20 years, nine million of which would have been expected to end in abortion.”

    A Washington University study conducted between 2007 and 2011 came to the same conclusion (again, quoting from the study): “Providing birth control to women at no cost substantially reduces unplanned pregnancies and cuts abortion rates by a range of 62 to 78 percent compared to the national rate.”

    I think Mr. McLaren’s point is a good one since it is primarily supported by these studies as well as others worldwide. These studies happened to be undertaken in the US but similar studies have been performed in Russia and South Korea and all show the same trend; easily available contraception reduces the incidence of abortion because it reduces the incidence of unplanned pregnancies.