Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Bad biology, bad policy in the Hobby Lobby reactions

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jul 01, 2014

In the aftermath of the Hobby Lobby decision, feminists have complained that the Supreme Court has made it impossible for women to control their own fertility. Am I missing something?

The Catholic columnist Michael B. Dougherty reacted to the ruling—or rather to the panicky reactions—with a tongue-in-cheek tweet: “So, nine months from now every single fertile woman will be giving birth. Big ruling.”

Leave aside the fact that contraceptives remain readily available to anyone who wants them. There’s another suppressed premise hidden in the (over)reactions: the notion that if you are a fertile woman, and don’t use contraceptives, you will become pregnant. I can imagine children, just now learning about the birds and the bees, reading the glare headlines, scratching their heads, and wondering why the adults have left a crucial step out of the process.

Or are we, as a nation, now assuming that every woman, regardless of her age or marital status or state in life, will be engaging in sexual intercourse on a regular basis? That sexual congress, like respiration, is something that we assume will be taking place in everyone’s life? And by the way is that the message we want to convey to those confused children?


Regrettably, the Supreme Court decision itself contains a statement that ignores scientific realities. Justice Alito, in his majority opinion, writes that “the Hahns and Greens have a sincere religious belief that life begins at conception.” At best that statement is awkward; at worst it is nonsense.

The Hahns and Greens (the families that control the corporations involved in the Hobby Lobby case) have sincere religious beliefs. And life begins at conception. These are two true statements. But they don’t belong together.

That life begins at conception is not a religious belief. It is a scientific fact. The fertilized ovum either is, or is not, alive. If it is capable of independent growth, nutrition, and movement, if it has its own unique genetic code, then it is alive, by any reasonable definition. There might be some room for discussion on what kind of life it is, but since it has human DNA, you’ll have a steep uphill climb to persuade any disinterested party that it is anything other than human life.

To accommodate the demand for legal abortion, and to pave the way for acceptance of all forms of contraception, much of our society has embraced the fiction that human life only begins when the fetus is implanted in the womb. Intelligent adults—of whom Justice Alito is one—should not accept that little white lie. One recalls the words of Sir Thomas More, in the script of Robert Bolt’s memorable Man for All Seasons:

Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.


Many years ago, when I was helping to edit Policy Review, that quarterly journal published an article by the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, on what he called the most important of all public-policy decisions.* Those most important decisions, Moynihan argued, are not made by legislatures or courts or federal agencies; they are made by couples, who decide whether or not to have children.

Nothing that the government does—no tweak of interest rates, no sweeping regulatory edict—is nearly as important to the future of a nation as the production of the next generation. Yet even under brutal dictatorships, until recent times those most critical decisions were left to married couples. All governments thereby recognized the limits of their own power, and the role of families as the fundamental building-blocks of society.

The notion that families should be left to make the really important decisions is thoroughly in tune with the ideas of the American founding fathers, who envisioned a nation in which the people would be allowed to handle their own affairs, with a minimal government respecting the dignity of a free people.

But now we are hearing, emerging ever more clearly in our public debates, an argument that the federal government should become involved in that most important public-policy decision: that Uncle Sam should instruct citizens as to when they should have children, and how many. The courts are already routinely involved in decisions about the custody of children. Now they are frequently being expected to settle disputes about the rights of different parties involved in the complicated processes of assisted reproduction.

Is it too far-fetched, then, to imagine that sometime soon, someone inside the Washington beltway will issue a call for what would amount, in effect, to a government license to bear children? I don’t think it’s far-fetched at all. On the contrary I suspect that if you pay careful attention, you’ll hear that suggestion made even today. The suggestions are ever so cautious, so tentative—for now. But they are aimed at the very heart of what constitutes a free society: the bond of marriage and the autonomy of the family.


*- Unfortunately I cannot find the article online; if anyone does, I would be grateful for a link.

Add with a hat-tip to my friend Paul, here it is! 

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: fwhermann3492 - Jul. 02, 2014 12:14 PM ET USA

    I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but the rhetoric coming from the left in response to this decision has me convinced that bad blood is also a factor. While all of us are capable of lapses in judgment when we deliberate emotionally-charged issues, I have a hard time believing that a person of average intelligence can sincerely interpret the Hobby Lobby ruling as an attempt to remove access to contraceptives. Willful, intentional spin, therefore, is the only alternative left.

  • Posted by: wtchurch5213 - Jul. 01, 2014 4:50 PM ET USA

    Great article, Phil. What the raving lunatics on the left fail to see is the absurdity of their claim. And no one on the court, or on either side for that matter, seems to acknowledge or understand that 1)contraception isn't health care, and 2) pregnancy isn't a disease.

  • Posted by: wacondaseeds4507 - Jul. 01, 2014 1:09 PM ET USA

    What almost everyone fails to either recognize or acknowledge is the simple fact that contraception and abortion suppress normal healthy functions. That's right, they are not health care, they are anti-health care. I can't call to mind any other drugs or procedures that are utilized strictly to prevent normal healthy functions. Another fact is that oral contraceptives puts women's health at risk. So, exactly who is really waging a war on women and their bodies?

  • Posted by: shrink - Jul. 01, 2014 10:34 AM ET USA

    I attended a conference at Univ of Dallas in 1994, when a noted secular researcher argued for the issuance of a baby license. His point was based upon the high levels of child abuse. He used as an analogy obtaining a drivers license. It had not occurred to him that the worst child abuse tends to occur in homes where parents are not married, are mentally ill, and generally bereft of any religious or moral scruples. When Christian moral praxis goes out the window, child abuse becomes rampant.