With only a couple of weeks to go before the U.S. Supreme Court hears Hobby Lobby’s high-profile challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s so-called contraception mandate, non-party advocacy groups for and against the provision are inundating the nine justices with lengthy amicus briefs.
But this time, most friends-of-the-court are not particularly interested in the advancement of legal theories or introduction of relevant precedents. The issue is instead the underlying science of reproduction and contraception.
Corporations Are People, Too
The widely publicized lawsuit, filed by arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby and joined by the cabinet manufacturer Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., seeks an exemption from the requirement to include contraceptive coverage in their employee health plans. They argue that, under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, corporations with religious ties should not be forced to run their business contrary to certain core beliefs.
"Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles,” Hobby Lobby’s mission statement reads. A pretty bold claim for any American corporation, some would argue.
To make matters a bit more complex, both plaintiffs have assured the court that they have no problem providing birth control that prevents conception. What they’re worried about is so-called emergency contraception, specifically Teva’s morning-after pill Plan B. This class of contraceptives, they claim, should be considered abortive, as they terminate a viable embryo after fertilization.
Outside the court, this is where things get heated.
The basic facts of human conception are as follows: After an egg is released, it has about 24 hours to join with a sperm. Once this happens, the fertilized egg must burrow into the lining of the uterus. If the egg fails to do this, it will not begin to develop as an embryo, and pregnancy does not occur.
Though the gap between the initial fertilization and subsequent implantation may seem like a minor part of human reproduction, the four-day journey through the fallopian tube is currently keeping activists across America sleepless.
Although up to 80 percent of fertilized eggs fail to implant, Hobby Lobby and its supporters believe that life formally occurs at fertilization. They further believe that emergency contraception acts by blocking implantation, thereby terminating a potential pregnancy.
Opponents submit that prevailing scientific knowledge speaks against this, with larger and more recent studies indicating that emergency contraceptives almost always prevent pregnancy by blocking fertilization.
"There is a segment of the medical field that says there isn't a human life until the baby has implanted," Dr. Kathleen Raviele, a spokesperson for the Catholic Medical Association, who supports the plaintiffs. "You have two groups talking past each other."
The segment in this case is the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which has a membership of 55,000 and represents 90 percent of the nation’s board-certified OB/GYNs. Speaking to Reuters, Dr. James Trussell of Princeton University assured that emergency contraception "won't cause an abortion in the legal and medical sense of the word."
Still, the issue may ultimately turn on the intervention of federal agencies, who have yet to announce their position regarding the matter. "The agency is aware of emerging data that suggests that (Plan B's compound) does not inhibit or prevent implantation of the fertilized egg and acts only by blocking or delaying ovulation, but has not had the opportunity to formally evaluate this recent data,” Erica Jefferson, a spokesperson for the Food and Drug Administration, told reporters.
In the meantime, America can look forward to yet another debate between science and religion.