Why the Supreme Court Ignored Science in Hobby Lobby

Some friendly pointers for the justices in the wake of their decision.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 28: Obamacare supporters and protesters gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to find out the ruling on the Affordable Health Act June 28, 2012 in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court has upheld the whole healthcare law of the Obama Administration. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) (National Journal)

There seems to be some confusion over at the Supreme Court about what can and can't induce abortion. In their ruling in the Hobby Lobby case last week, justices ignored the overwhelming scientific evidence that the contraceptive methods in contention do not in fact cause abortion, as defined by the medical community.

"If the owners comply with the [Health and Human Services] mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions," Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the Court's majority opinion. This, the justices determined, constituted a "substantial burden" on Hobby Lobby's religious rights.

At issue are four types of contraceptives: two of them, Ella and Plan B, are classified as "morning-after pills," and two others, Mirena and ParaGard, are classified as intrauterine devices.

"There are medications that prevent pregnancy and there are medications that cause abortions," said Dr. Lin-Fan Wang, a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, an organization that aims to bring medical expertise to discussions of public policy. The methods before the Court, she explained, "clearly worked to prevent pregnancy," not terminate it.

Even using religious conservatives' definition of when life begins — the moment an egg is fertilized — three of the four contraceptives can be proven not to lead to abortion, and scientists are almost as certain the fourth doesn't, either. (The New Republic has a useful graphic and explainer on the matter.)

Wang's group was one of more than a dozen in the medical community to sign on to an amicus brief detailing the scientific distinctions between contraceptives and so-called abortifacients. But all that mattered to the Court from a legal standpoint was simply that Hobby Lobby believes these contraceptive methods could somehow lead to abortions. As Talking Points Memo explained at some length Thursday, a statute of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects religious beliefs regardless of evidence. Call it an article of faith.

The Court also chose to ignore the health imperatives surrounding birth-control pills. As I highlighted last week, the pill is used to treat a variety of medical conditions, including endometriosis, which will affect an estimated 11 percent of women in their lifetimes, and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which affects 5 percent to 10 percent of the female population. For all women, the pill is the best protection there is against ovarian cancer, one of the deadliest cancers women face, short of removing your ovaries or being born a man.

But you'd never know that from reading the Court's oral arguments, or majority opinion. Corporations and their religious beliefs about the way abortion works trumped all that.

In the days since I wrote about the health imperatives of birth-control pills, there's been some debate about how useful those themes are to the feminist cause. But that these scientific findings aren't being included in the Court's arguments should be troubling.

Here, for the Court's consideration, are several things women have been known to do that don't in fact cause abortion, no matter your beliefs: wear Spanx Underwear; take long, sweaty bike rides; watch Rachel Maddow; read Nora Ephron; and — wait for it — take birth-control pills.