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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:
New Mexico: 5,180
North Dakota: 1,250
South Dakota: 600
West Virginia: 2,390
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.