Monday, July 14, 2014

MemeThink 202: Hobby Lobby Edition

MemeThink 101 offered a perspective on the frustrating trend of using memes to talk about serious cultural issues, in particular same-sex marriage. This follow-up post will address the recent Hobby Lobby ruling as seen from the perspective of the MemeThink.


Does anyone actually believe this meme represents reality? In the eyes of the Supreme Court, women are persons, corporations are an association of citizens and/or persons  (it's a centuries old "legal fiction"),* and unborn babies are not persons.  In the eyes of Hobby Lobby, unborn babies and women are persons and corporations are an association of citizens who have constitutional rights. Who exactly is undecided about whether or not a woman is a person?

Everybody in the discussion thinks a woman is a person. Not everyone agrees, however, on 1) whether or not the baby is a person and 2) if an abortion actually results from the contraception in question. Justice Samuel Alito noted that “federal regulations, which define pregnancy as beginning at implantation, do not so classify them.” Many pro-life advocates (including the owners of Hobby Lobby) believe that life begins at fertilization.  If that's true, the baby is a person from the moment of fertilization and thus deserves the protections granted to other persons.

It's not like one side has science as the other does not. Everyone is looking at the same evidence while disagreeing about the moment life begins - which is a legitimate and significant question. Doctors, biologists, philosophers and theologians all have something to say that's worth hearing.  If Hobby Lobby errs, it is on the side of caution (and with more medical support than you might think).


A number of questions come to mind:
  • Are women having their reproductive systems removed?
  • If a corporation does not pay for a treatment they believe causes an abortion, does that justify dismembering men?
  • isn't 'cut off' being used in two remarkably different ways?
  • Does the sign holder in the background realize that nothing whatsoever in this case had to do with the legality of abortion?
Hobby Lobby's insurance plan covers 16 kinds of contraception already, 14 of which are for women. The plan even includes birth control pills and sterilization surgeries. Their reproductive choices are somewhat limited but certainly not cut off. So… You can't cut off a man's penis if he owns or represents Hobby Lobby.


I’m seeing a lot of signs along the lines of, “My body/bedroom is not my boss’s business.” Loosely translated, “My sex life is not my boss’s business. Go away.” I don’t think you have to convince Hobby Lobby of this. Hobby Lobby's employees are free to pursue a diverse range of sexual and reproductive lifestyle choices without attracting any interest from Hobby Lobby. They are even given 16 different ways to avoid having children during that pursuit.

The company is not run by voyeurs. The four contraceptives in questions are not on the dock because the employers care about their employees’ sex life. They are on the dock because Hobby Lobby doesn't want to underwrite what they believe is the ending of another human life when four particular contraceptives are used. You are free to return to your bedroom and do whatever you were doing.


Employees as free as they ever were to use their own money for the things mentioned in this quote (abortion, psychiatric care, AIDS medication and gelatin-covered pills). Hobby Lobby is not dictating the intimate health decisions of its workers. Withholding a particular benefit is very different from exercising a religious veto bludgeon.

Isn't the real question whether or not "closely held" companies can be forced by the government to compromise their religious practice or belief - in this case, providing coverage for procedures they believe end the life of a child?**

The answer is "No, they can't." The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into law by President Clinton and passed in the House and the Senate with a total of three dissenting votes. It provided "for conduct exemptions to laws of general applicability where such laws substantially burden religious practice or belief, unless the government can meet the high burden of demonstrating that a legal imposition is supported by a compelling governmental interest—the highest standard known to our law—and represents the least restrictive means of protecting or advancing that interest."

Hobby Lobby claimed the RFRA was on their side. SOTUS agreed.


There are more layers to the discussion. Hobby Lobby is being accused of duplicity because 1) it buys products from China, a nation which is notorious for its abortion policy among other things, and 2) it actually covered the debated contraception before the Health Care Mandate brought them to light - an oversight Hobby Lobby claims was done out of ignorance, not complicity.

Of course, Hobby Lobby could be medically wrong and corporately flawed and still have a case regarding their religious freedom based on the RFRA.

That's the issue, and it deserves something better than memes to push the conversation.

*For an interesting article on corporations and personhood, check out the Harvard Law Review: "Hobby Lobby, Corporate Law, and the Theory of the Firm: Why for-profit corporations are RFRA persons."

**Let’s say Princeton ethicist Peter Singer’s views become the law of the land in 2015. A parent could kill children after they are born, even if they are months old. Let’s say that, in addition, the government wanted all insurance plans to cover this “after birth abortion.” If the owners of a “closely held” company believed that life begins at birth, would they have the right to refuse to cover any procedure that harmed the baby after that moment even if federal regulations mirrored Singer's beliefs? 

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