Thinking Clearly about Hobby Lobby

HLA friend just posted on Facebook about the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. For the purposes of anonymity I will leave her name out of this post and simply deal with the argument. My concern here is very narrow, and only addresses the logic of the following arguments. The original post states the following.

A) A company who does or does not offer coverage for contraception has the “power of life and death” over their employees.

B) By not paying for contraception, the Employer has a say over whether or not women procreate.

C) A quote from Justice Sonia Sotomayor  “Is your claim limited to sensitive materials like contraceptives, or does it include items like blood transfusion, vaccines? For some religions, products made of pork? Is any claim under your theory that has a religious basis, could an employer preclude the use of those items as well?”

D) By choosing not to pay for contraception, Hobby Lobby, a for-profit company, is imposing its religious views on its employees.

E) That this stance by Hobby Lobby is the same as determining the religious beliefs for someone.

Comments on the post point out that Viagra is still covered, and that this is a double standard.


In response, I will first say that I don’t have any moral compunction against birth-control. I think that it is fully within the moral freedom of a human being to exercise, to the extent of his or her abilities, power over the reproductive act. I do not think that sex and procreation must always go together, any more than I think that taste must always accompany a full stomach. If one thinks that, by an act of power and will, humans should not experience the pleasure of Eros without the consequence of birth, they should also be lobbying very hard against chewing gum, which provides flavor with no nutritional value…and diet sodas….well, perhaps we should all be lobbying against diet sodas.

That being said, I think that the whole perspective of the original post is flawed. I want to put the argument as plainly as I can, so that if I am wrong, it will be easier to show it.

1. There is a difference between (a) forcing someone to do something/prohibiting someone from doing something and (b) not assisting someone in an act but also not prohibiting them. This is easily shown by observing the difference between stopping someone from crossing the street/making them cross the street at gunpoint, and simply not interfering or aiding them cross the street. The first (a) is an impinging on their freedom. The second (b) is an exercise of your own freedom. Now, it may sometimes be wrong to do (b) when the person needs help, but that is a different matter.

2. Hobby Lobby, as well as many other companies see the government as dong (a) forcing them to spend their money on something they find morally wrong. By insisting that they support birth control, the government is removing their freedom to act in accord with their ethics.

3. Critiques of this decision, like the one above, accuse Hobby Lobby of doing (a). In fact, arguments A-E all restate this in some way.

4. However, Hobby Lobby’s action of not covering birth control is actually the same as  (b) which is exercising their freedom to not help someone do something.

Why this is important:

Companies are run by people, and people, in general, have morals (the quality of their morals is not the issue of debate here). For a government or company to (a) force people to use their money against their morals would be an infringement on their freedom. In fact, many people do object to the way their taxes are spent on moral grounds. No one wants a government or a company to force them to do something they find morally reprehensible.

However, this is not what Hobby Lobby is doing. Instead, They are doing (b) which is that they are exercising their right not to help or hinder. If they are forcing people to do anything, they are forcing people to pay for their own birth control, or to see other sources of funding for their birth control, if they want birth control. Paying for one’s own birth control does not seem to be a morally reprehensible act. If it is, I have yet to see an argument that shows it to be.

Justice Sotomayor’s statement falls into the same error. While it would be important to know if your health insurance covers blood transfusions, which would be a valid concern if one was working for a company run by people who have a moral compunction against this (though those religions actually have a more complicated stance on this issue, as far as I know), no company could tell you not to eat pork. They might not serve pork, and they might even prohibit pork on their grounds, but in no way are they infringing on a person’s right to eat pork on their own time, or to buy pork.

As a side note, the Viagra comparison is also logically flawed. Viagra allows some men to have sex who otherwise could not. Birth control does not do this for women. Birth control attempts to control the unwanted procreation of offspring. It is not clear exactly how these two things are at all comparable.

Also, it is good to  note that there is a drug that allows some women to have sex who otherwise could not, and that drug is also Viagra. A faithful woman in a relationship with a man who cannot perform the sexual act without Viagra cannot have sex. An unfaithful woman could, of course, but that is neither here nor there.

And finally, as far as I can tell, there are no moral objections to Viagra. Is that because there’s a double standard trying to keep women down? Well, I could believe that if in fact the majority of men using Viagra were using it to have sex with each other. But, as it happens, I don’t think there is such a statistic. Instead, there’s no moral objection to Viagra because it restores a natural function of the body, it does not prohibit one. Birth control, for good or ill, prohibits what would take place in the course of nature. Ergo, some people have a problem with it. Again, I do not.

Finally, the slippery slope of this situation would be the idea that people give up their rights to be moral creatures the moment they work for a corporation. A person who is a CEO who is told, “I don’t care if you think it is good or evil, just do your job” is a person who is living in a culture that is not far from despotism. We may find other people’s morals to be inconvenient, or even damaging to our livelihoods. But the moment we start empowering the government to tell people, just because they are part of a company, that their morals don’t matter, is the moment we empower the government to tell us the same thing about our own morals.