Hobby Lobby’s complaint in the case that the Supreme Court decided on Monday morning is that the company and its founders don’t think Hobby Lobby employees should be able to spend their own earned insurance benefits on contraception; the company wants to be able to offer a plan that doesn’t meet the minimum federal requirements on contraception coverage. Hobby Lobby argues that even though there is no scientific evidence to back this contention up, contraception methods like the intrauterine device (IUD) and emergency contraception work by killing fertilized eggs, and they claim to believe that a fertilized egg is the equivalent of an actual baby.
That’s the ostensible reason. However, it’s important to remember that Hobby Lobby is not acting alone. Rather, the company is the official plaintiff (along with the Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation) in a case that is part of a larger legal attack from the Christian right on contraception access. While contraception is largely non-controversial among the general public, chipping away at contraception access—particularly when it’s female-controlled, and particularly when it’s used by young or low-income women—has become a major part of the anti-choice agenda.
Make no mistake: They are coming for your birth control.
On their face, anti-contraception arguments from the Christian right tend to focus on hand-wringing about fertilized eggs and the imaginary assaults upon them. But when speaking to each other, anti-choice activists tend to be more open about how it’s all about sex. Though there’s zero scientific evidence to prove this, the theory is that if people—well, let’s be honest, women—didn’t have access to contraception, they would stop having sex. Or at least, they’d keep it at the minimum necessary to procreate, but no more. Less sex is considered a self-evidently good thing. Sometimes these folks even trot out phony concerns about how women are degrading themselves with all this screwing around.
A perfect, nay platonic example of this was on display at the National Right to Life Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, over the weekend. Joy Pinto, a right-wing talk radio host and the manager of a crisis pregnancy center in Birmingham, Alabama, gave a talk on opening day about the evils of contraception and how women were harmed because, she appears to believe, having sex in and of itself is bad for women.
“I have the privilege on a daily basis—being the director of a pregnancy medical center—to see the wreckage of humanity that walks in my door, because they have bit the apple, they have believed the lie that this government, that all of the politics, that even some churches tell them,” she ranted. “That it’s OK to go use contraception, it’s OK to use abortion as a backup birth control.”
Working herself into a lather, she added, “There is a ‘war on women,’ but we’re not waging it. It’s coming from the pit of hell, like it did in the book of Genesis, when he told the women—when she bit the apple, he said, ‘You will not die.’”
Faux concern for women? Check. Implying that women have no sexualities of their own and are only having sex because someone else told them to? Check. Fantasies of the halcyon days prior to reliable contraception when women didn’t have sex and never had a need for abortion? Check. A hefty and blatant reminder that, at its core, the anti-choice movement is about flouting the First Amendment and imposing a narrow fundamentalist version of Christianity through government force on non-believers? Check.
These were not the rantings of someone who was accidentally slipped into the program. Pinto was one of the main speakers at the event, one of the superstars of the anti-choice movement put there to draw a crowd. This isn’t a marginal person, speaking from the sidelines, but someone presenting from a position of authority and addressing what has become the mainstream belief amongst anti-choice activists. (Not, to be clear, your ordinary person who claims to be “pro-life” or may even support banning abortion, but the activists who are deeply invested in this issue.)
This is the agenda we are up against.
I realize it’s tempting to minimize this and say that they aren’t all that bad—that things can’t be that bad. And it’s true that, so far, we’re not seeing any moves from the anti-choice movement to outright ban contraception, or even to ban female-controlled versions like the pill and the IUD for which they have a special hatred. But that’s because, while they do spout endless fantasies about their version of paradise where icky sex mostly goes away (their paradise being hell for the rest of us, of course), anti-choice activists are not stupid. They know that rolling out a hardline anti-contraception agenda is going to cause most Americans to shut down and laugh them out of the room.
So instead, the strategy is to cast around, looking for certain soft spots, places where they can attack contraception access, making it harder for women to get while assuring everyone that they are not actually out to get rid of their contraception. Target young women or poor women first, like the college women Sandra Fluke was defending or women who rely on government-subsidized contraception. Insinuate that these women’s sexual lives are improper and should be policed from outside. Gradually widen the net by using “religious liberty” as a fig leaf to grant women’s bosses veto power over their health-care coverage, injecting their boss’ opinion about their private sex life into their medical decision making. Chip chip chip. Bit by bit, they can make us accustomed to the idea that contraception is “controversial” and whether or not you get pregnant is a matter of public debate instead of a private choice.
Why should they doubt that this strategy will work? It took four decades, but the chipping away strategy has started to pay off in the war on abortion access, with many states on the verge of having no abortion providers whatsoever. They may never be able to get contraception banned, but they can definitely do some serious damage to women’s ability to access it. They are waging a “war on women,” after all, so every woman felled by unwanted pregnancy is a victory in and of itself.