The Obama Administration’s Misleading Abortion Semantics

Anna Paprocki Staff Attorney, Americans United For Life
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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s recent “misspeak” — outlandishly claiming the Hobby Lobby decision “outlawed” contraceptives — was far from the first misrepresentation about the case. Rather than be “afraid” of the Court, as Pelosi urged, Americans should be alarmed by the federal government’s own admissions in the courtroom.

Life-ending drugs and devices are masqueraded as “contraception,” and the Obama administration believes it has the power to enforce an all-abortion mandate against religious objections.

The Court in Hobby Lobby clearly articulated that what the Green and Hahn families find morally wrong is the “destruction of an embryo” and that the government conceded the drugs and devices at issue “may result in the destruction of an embryo.”

As the majority opinion accurately captured, the families’ religious objection is to ending a human life. The government admitted what science, not religion, confirms: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) label “contraception,” a term that sounds benign to many people, includes drugs and devices that can work after fertilization (conception) by killing an embryo — a unique human being.

Both sides agreed that the drugs and devices at issue in the case can end human life.

Predictably, the straightforward explanation of the Green and Hahn families’ religious principle to respect life at its earliest stages upset those who would rather get caught up in a bait-and-switch discussion about the term “abortion.” L.A. Times  columnist Robin Abcarian, for example, complained that the “worst” part of the opinion was the acknowledgment that, for the plaintiffs, ending an embryo’s life by blocking implantation is tantamount to abortion.

Citing a description of progesterone-based drugs, Abcarian wrongly concludes the progesterone-blocking drug ella (one so-called “emergency contraceptive”) would not harm an embryo in an “established pregnancy,” which she defines as beginning “after implantation.” Blocking progesterone, a hormone essential in pregnancy, ella can cause an implanted embryo’s death. Studies support that fact. Blocking progesterone is precisely how the abortion drug mifepristone kills a baby as well.

Abcarian’s error aside, the Court rightly rejected playing the semantics game she and others want to wage. Arguing over the “abortion” label is a distraction. The government admitted its mandate includes what the Greens and Hahns object to: drugs and devices that can end human life.

Some proponents of so-called “emergency contraception” embrace that reality.

Take, for example, “Embracing Post-Fertilization Methods of Family Planning,” an article published by the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care. Its authors include Princeton’s Dr. James Trussell — a researcher affiliated with Planned Parenthood, the Guttmacher Institute, and other pro-abortion groups, whose work related to “contraceptives” is cited by the FDA.

The authors state that post-fertilization effects (i.e. those that end the life of an already developing human embryo) should be “celebrated” since they make drugs and devices more effective. Pleading with legislators and policymakers to embrace, rather than deny, these life-ending effects, they argue “the essential value” to women “lies precisely in the attributes it shares with abortion.”

The authors are right that it is time to openly acknowledge that some labeled “contraceptives” have life-ending effects. But they are dead wrong to think women do not care about whether the drugs and devices they take may end the early lives of their children.

Hobby Lobby, for example, cares precisely about that distinction. The insurance plan Barbara and David Green offered their employees, prior to any government mandate, covered some “contraceptives.” The Green family objected to being forced to pay for coverage of four drugs and devices misleadingly labeled as “contraception” despite their known life-ending properties.

Working deliberately to obliterate any semblance of a line between “contraception” and abortion, Trussell and his co-authors issued a “call to action” to develop new “family planning” methods with more assurances that if life is created it will be destroyed.  If a drug’s post-fertilization effects included a strong post-implantation effect, the authors exclaim, a woman “might even be able to limit its use on average to a few times a year when her menstrual period was late.”

Think about that for a minute. A “family planning” drug you take when your period is late. Is that convenient? Yes. Is that contraception? No.

But if labeled “contraception” — because it passes the FDA’s standard of “can it work prior to implantation?” — this hypothetical (for now) drug would be included in the Health and Human Services (HHS) Mandate.

The Hobby Lobby court acknowledged another radical point that was conceded by the Obama administration’s attorney during oral arguments. “Under HHS’s view, [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] would permit the Government to require all employers to provide coverage for any medical procedure allowed by law in the jurisdiction in question — for instance, third-trimester abortions or assisted suicide.”

Sadly, third-trimester abortions (and in some states assisted suicide) are legal in the United States. The prospect of an all-out abortion coverage mandate is not pure speculation. The Washington statehouse passed such a mandate this past legislative session.

If the Obama administration’s arguments prevailed, the government could “effectively exclude” pro-life Americans “from full participation in the economic life of the Nation” by requiring them to pay for these life-ending activities.

The Court wisely declined going down a rabbit hole of the imagined parade-of-horribles the Obama administration tried as a distraction. The government provided no evidence that any significant number of employers sought a religious exemption from any other coverage requirements.

In stark contrast, the threat of job-killing fines for the Green and Hahn family businesses were concrete examples of real-life, happening-now government discrimination and coercion.

At the heart of the Hobby Lobby case were drugs and devices that, regardless of their label, can end the life of a unique, developing human being. Proponents of so-called “emergency contraception” actively seek to expand the list of life-ending drugs in a way that obliterates any line between abortion and contraception. The government’s argument was, by its own admission, an open door to enforcing a comprehensive abortion mandate. The case was very much about abortion.