Beliefs Culture Ethics Institutions Jonathan Merritt: On Faith and Culture Opinion

Hobby Lobby, Christian women, and contraception: More complicated than you might think

Protestors gather in front of the HHS headquarters for the "Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally" - Image courtesy of American Life League (
Protestors gather in front of the HHS headquarters for the "Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally" - Image courtesy of American Life League (

Protestors gather in front of the HHS headquarters for the “Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally” – Image courtesy of American Life League (

The Green family, owners of the 609 Hobby Lobby stores, are to conservative Christianity what the Kardashians are to the E! network: poster children.

The billionaire believers are outspoken Christians who claim to run their company based on the teachings of the Bible and spend at least one-third of the company’s annual profits on evangelical causes. On March 25th, the Greens prayed together before entering the Supreme Court to argue that their $3.3 billion for-profit business should receive a religious exemption from the Obamacare contraception mandate. Conservative evangelicals everywhere were interceding with them.

Given the way the Green’s fight with the federal government has rallied so many believers, one might assume the 77% of Americans who identify themselves as Christian overwhelmingly support the Greens and the battle against contraception. (Hobby Lobby continues to provide insurance coverage for 16 forms of birth control but object to any form of contraception that would terminate a fertilized egg.)

But many believers—namely Christian women—don’t see the issue quite the same way.

New analysis of previously released data shows a sizable gender gap among Christians on employer provided contraception.

According to a Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) poll of 1,009 Americans, 60 percent of Christian women agree “all employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception or birth control at no cost.” The survey also shows that a majority of Americans—including Catholics and white mainline Protestants—support requiring employers to provide health care that includes free contraception.

Image courtesy of Public Religion Research Institute

Image courtesy of Public Religion Research Institute

The survey was conducted in 2012, but PRRI has only now released analysis aggregating all Christian women, exclusive to Religion News Service.

“When we initially released this report, we were looking at gender differences across the board,” said Robert Jones, CEO of PRRI, “but we didn’t look at the differences among Christians.”

Jones notes that women end up paying for contraception more often than men, so there is an economic component contributing to the opinions of these Christian women who support employer provided contraception.

Amy Butler, senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington D.C., told me she doesn’t think Hobby Lobby should be exempted, and said she suspects their claim “is actually a big business issue rather than a religious liberty issue.” Butler believes that people are missing the most significant matters at stake in this debate.

“Many Christians, and evangelicals in particular, are pre-occupied with issues related to sex and not concerned enough with issues of justice and poverty and loving our neighbors and others issues Jesus asked us to care about,” Butler says. “The idea that contraception is already available is a foil and folks who stands to lose when it is taken away are the poor and the least and the vulnerable.”

“Women have been on the losing side of this issue for most of the 20th century,” Butler says. “Restricting contraception hurts women, and it hurts poor women.”

Sister Simone Campbell of Network, a national Catholic social justice lobby, holds similar views to Butler’s. She told me the key to Catholic teaching on the issue is the intent with which one acts. Since we can’t create laws that govern intent, she prefers letting people act according to their consciences. Campbell does not agree with Hobby Lobby’s rationale and said a decision in their favor would be problematic.

“If an employee needs to worry about the conscience of their employer, that creates marketplace chaos,” Campbell says. “If I work for a Christian Scientist who doesn’t believe in healthcare or a Jehovah’s Witness who doesn’t believe in blood transfusions, now I need to worry about what my employer believes is right for me.”

Campbell notes that physicians often prescribe contraception for purposes other than preventing pregnancy. She admits that a doctor prescribed her birth control to treat an irregular period when she was younger, though she wasn’t sexually active.

Many Christian men also support employer provided contraception—43 percent of them, according to PRRI.

David Gushee, an evangelical and professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University, argued that for-profit companies should not have the same religious liberty protections as houses of worship and religious organizations. He stated bluntly in a column for the Associated Baptist Press: “I believe [Hobby Lobby’s] claim should be denied.”

Gushee, author of “The Sacredness of Human Life: Why an Ancient Biblical Vision is the Key to the World’s Future,” stated that many contraceptive measures such as morning-after pills and intrauterine devices do not induce abortions as Hobby Lobby and some conservatives claim.

Though Hobby Lobby’s evangelical supporters have dominated media coverage of this debate, many faithful women and men hold an opposing view on contraception.

Says Campbell, “Restricting access to contraception is not good for the economy, and it is not good for religion.”

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.


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  • I really hope no one actually believes 70% of Americans are Christians, even if they self-identify.

  • “Hobby Lobby continues to provide insurance coverage for 16 forms of birth control but object to any form of contraception that would terminate a fertilized egg” If this is the case, do some women have to choose birth control that terminates a fertilized egg?

  • One fact that is not widely reported is that Hobby Lobby on disagrees with providing four forms of contraception because of those drugs abortsfacient effects. Hobby Lobby’s plan actually cover 26 other forms of contraception.

  • A couple of reasons.

    1) there is not clear scientific evidence that the four actually work after the egg is fertilized. There is just speculation that they might work that way (although there just isn’t much evidence on either side.)

    2) Lots of women can’t use lots of birth control methods. Women that can’t take hormonal methods have little options except condoms or IUDs. IUDs are one of the methods that are not offered, but are highly effective, long lasting and expensive.

    3) At least part of the issue is ideological. Many people just don’t think the business owners should have a say in medical decisions.

  • There is a little game being played by Fundamentalists. Fundamentalists count mainstream christian sect believerss when its a numbers game and ignore them when it comes to actual views.

    This way everyone is counted together even though the religious views on various positions will vary wildly. It gives Fundamentalists an impression of widespread acceptance that reality does not permit them.

  • The third part of your argument is really the most important.

    It is none of the business of an employer to be micromanaging available care to employees in such a fashion. Based entirely on arbitrary and irrational personal motives rather than cost, availability or demands.

  • Jason,

    A couple of important points to note:

    1. There are only 20 federally approved forms of contraception.
    2. Hobby Lobby healthcare plans cover 16 of them, as I stated in the article above.
    3. There is some disagreement about whether or not the remaining four actually terminate a fertilized egg or prevent implantation. (See David Gushee’s column linked to above.)



  • Because I am a man.

    Female birth control can get quite expensive and can be an economic barrier to working women.

    To be perfectly honest, there is no sane rationale against contraception. This is why it has to be in the province of religious belief. Only religious belief can give such a boneheaded view cultural legitimacy. 🙂

  • Neither Christian women – nor Christian men – are veridically determined by their self-declaration. Saying, “I am a Christian” while opposing God’s holiness, commandments, precepts, teachings, prescriptions and proscriptions does NOT mean one is a Christian in God’s eyes — and His eyes are the only ones that matter for eternity, and therefore also for our temporal sojourn on earth.

    Christ is not looking for people to shout to Him, “Lord, Lord” and then turn around and not only commit but champion evil, wrong-doing, and the snuffing out of Christ’s newly formed homo sapiens in utero by artificial means that prevent His “little ones” from implanting in their mothers’ altered endometriums, denying them life-preserving succor and nurture until birth as God biologically designed His female creatures’ reproductive systems.

    It is an egregious error to claim the nomenclature for oneself and eschew the prescriptions and proscriptions the Author of that nomenclature imputes.

    Said another way, hypocrisy is a detestable sin precisely because it makes one a liar AND reflects poorly on our God who is the God of Truth – the antithesis of hypocrisy and lies.

  • Multiple issues with the statements of Individuals quoted in this article:

    Ms. Butler’s statements about “losing” and “restricting” access to contraception mischaracterize the situation. The question is not whether access to contraception can be lost or restricted but how the government structures the subsidy involved. So far, the administration has refused to even offer to for-profit Employers the same accommodation provided to church affiliated non-profits and it is THIS point which is the issue before the Supreme Court.

    Sister Campbell’s claim “If an employee needs to worry about the conscience of their employer, that creates marketplace chaos” ignores without justification the fact so-called “marketplace chaos” already exists in pay levels and other aspects of benefits packages. If there is no reason to object to so-called “marketplace chaos” in these particular areas, it does not automatically follow a reason to object exists to the so-called “marketplace chaos” of Employer-provided health insurance.

    Sister Campbell’s statement, “If I work for a Christian Scientist who doesn’t believe in healthcare or a Jehovah’s Witness who doesn’t believe in blood transfusions, now I need to worry about what my employer believes is right for me,” is quite ignorant. Both Christian Scientists and Jehovah’s Witnesses believe denying Someone Life-saving medical care is a sin, even if that sin is modern medicine or blood transfusions. Her remark is nothing more than blatant stereotyping and pandering to People’s fears and prejudices and is grossly unbecoming of a Nun.

    While “[Sister] Campbell notes that physicians often prescribe contraception for purposes other than preventing pregnancy”, She also overlooks the fact the Objectors in the case before the Supreme Court do not have a problem with contraception per se but with the particular forms of birth control which can destroy a fertilized egg. As far as I can tell, such products are almost always prescribed for “preventing pregnancy”.

    Mr. Gushee’s article where He asserts Hobby Lobby’s claims should be denied is chock full of flaws, not the least of which is it is written as if the Religious Freedom Restoration Act were being debated in congress right now and was not already existing law. Perhaps, if Mr. Gushee has a time machine available to Him, He would do well to argue His points in 1993 instead. Otherwise, He is basically asking the Supreme Court to ignore the fact congress deliberately created a law to restrain the federal government’s actions absent an explicit waiver from the congress.

    Lastly, I am not sure where Mr. Gushee thinks Hobby Lobby has argued “contraceptive measures such as morning-after pills and intrauterine devices … induce abortions”. A review of the briefs filed in these cases show the objecting Parties make no such claim though They note such products can have an abortifacient result by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting into the uterine wall.

  • “Many Christians, and evangelicals in particular, are pre-occupied with issues related to sex and not concerned enough with issues of justice and poverty and loving our neighbors and others issues Jesus asked us to care about,”

    When I think of issues like “justice and poverty” things like children starving to death due to lack of food, human trafficking, widows and orphans destitute and oppressed come to mind. Not a employed person in America missing out on free birth control. I’m sorry, but simply throwing around Jesus’s name as a persuasive ploy to promote a ideology that can’t be found in scripture, won’t work.

  • I think you misunderstand a few of the issues. First, the has the right and history to regulate employment law. There are all kinds of current regulations. There are current exceptions to religious freedom in employment law. For instance a Sihk must remove their turban and wear a hardhat. There are limits and those limits are recongized.

    And to your last point. This is a quote from an open letter that David Green wrote, “But now, our government threatens to change all of that. A new government health care mandate says that our family business must provide what I believe are abortion-causing drugs as part of our health insurance. Being Christians, we don’t pay for drugs that might cause abortions. Which means that we don’t cover emergency contraception, the morning-after pill or the week-after pill. We believe doing so might end a life after the moment of conception, something that is contrary to our most important beliefs. It goes against the biblical principles on which we have run this company since day one.”

  • “When I think of issues like “justice and poverty” things like children starving to death due to lack of food, human trafficking, widows and orphans destitute and oppressed come to mind. ”

    Well after the World Vision kerfluffle, it is apparent, A good number of Christians are not particularly interested in that either.

  • You are really ignoring the main argument and deliberately mischaracterizing the situation. The whole idea of corporate religious belief is an absolute joke. It mocks religious belief and the nature of corporations. A corporation is not its owners. It is a form of property interest which is legally separated from the personal interests of its ownership. Hobby Lobby’s “strong Christian beliefs” are pure marketing.

    There are material differences between a for-profit business and a non-profit entity which make the notion of organizational religious belief ridiculous in one way and sensible in another. A company is not a church and it would be ridiculous to treat it as one. Corporate religious belief opens the door for all forms of regulation of commerce to be attacked on spurious alleged religious grounds. As Mr.Green is doing.

    As for contraception coverage, it is not the role of the employer to be micromanaging such decisions on behalf of the employee. Especially when such decisions have nothing to do with business operations, costs, or employee demand. It is simply Mr. Green forcing his employees to accept his irrational, arbitrary and capricious whims regarding employee personal matters where he does not belong.

    The RFRA was written and intended for the protection of employees FROM their employer’s religious imposition. It is not an excuse to engage in such acts by employers. Employers did not need protection of law for such things. They have coercive power in of themselves due to the relationship to the employees. Mr. Green makes a mockery of that law as well.

  • While I won’t cast aspersions on the Greens and their stated faith-based rationale for their case, I think that this situation and others is really an example of the loss of respect and protection for the “little guy.” Larry said, “A corporation is not its owners. It is a form of property interest which is legally separated from the personal interests of its ownership.” Yet, corporations, after Citizens United and McCutcheon Supreme Court decisions, are now imbued with the rights that the Constitution intended for individuals. So, they are seen to be individuals, but not the employees (or even the majority of stockholders). They are the individuals who own/govern the corporation, however devoid of any connection to the people who are affected or have even a minor stake in the enterprise. This, to my mind, is the more disturbing trend in these kinds of cases that are before the Court.

  • People read way too much into Citizens United.

    People keep thinking it declared a corporation an individual, but it did not. Political agendas or political interests of corporations were widely recognized long before that case. They generally are divorced from the personal views of its ownership. Financial interests and political interests are always tied together in one form or another. There is a rational logical flow between them.

    There is a constitutionally protected right to corporate speech long which has been recognized for some time. Corporate speech includes advertisements, marketing and public statements. The 1st Amendment always applied here to them.

    Religion is always an individual expression and does not have any rational or logical flow to the operations of a corporation. In many ways religious belief runs counter to the rational and sane administration of a corporation. Corporate religious beliefs appear to be an open invitation to violate labor laws and anti-discrimination laws.

    Religion’s personal nature creates conflicts within a company and to interests outside of it and is by its nature subjective and irrational. There is also no way to religious views can separated between an owner and corporation.

    The Hobby Lobby argument is by nature an attack on laws of incorporation. “The Corporate veil”.It is telling that there are no big corporate amicus briefs being filed on Hobby Lobby’s behalf (unlike Citizens United). Big business understands the advantage of the corporate veil and is in no rush to see it torched for what is obviously political whining.

  • Employers compensate employees with paychecks. It is very probable that at least some of any paycheck will be spent in a manner in which the employer does not “approve,” for religious, or any other reason.
    Health Care is now part of employee compensation. Under what legal, moral, ethical, religious, rational system is the employer then responsible for how the employee “spends” it?

  • First you say people the fact people self label themselves as Christian, does not make them Christians, that is something that God only knows. Then you, yourself, proceed to label these folks as suspect if they do not follow God’s “commandments, precepts, teachings, prescriptions and proscriptions” Who appointed you as the one to evaluate what God’s “commandments, precepts, teachings, prescriptions and proscriptions” are?

    You seem to have decided that some of the birth controls listed are in fact abortifacients. Medical professionals say they are not. The key here is your belief that they are, and that belief forms YOUR OPINION that Christians who use or support their use are not really true Christians.

    First your tear away their freedom to self- identify as Christians, then YOU label them as Christians in name only because of your perception of a birth control method.

    Who gave you the right to label these people goats or sheep?

  • No, because that is not how contraception works.

    Weird Christian values when they would rather force women to have an abortion.

  • Except the business is forced to spend their money.

    If you don’t like the compensation and benefits work somewhere else.

  • nothing arbitrary, capricious or irrational about the owners of Hobby Lobby putting their money where their mouth is.

  • It is when that money belonged in their employees wallets as compensation for services rendered. There is no rational argument being made by Green. He is just treating his employees like they are his property.

    Why does Mr Green feel the need to control his employees health care options? Because he feels like it.

  • Businesses are forced to do a lot of things they might find inconvenient by government.
    Its called the commerce clause.

    Hobby Lobby benefitted from government created incorporation status, they can abide by the obligations it entails as well. If Mr Green doesn’t like it, he can take accept personal liabilities for his company and try to run it as a sole proprietorship.

  • The Greenes became very public Christian witnesses only when it would add to their billions by reducing the costs of Hobby Lobby labor by using their religion as an excuse to avoid the deserved payment for health care for their employees.

    It is a case of the Greenes forcing their religion onto everyone who works for them and that is unconstitutional. Everyone can decide for herself or himself whether or how to practice any birth control. The Greenes have no right to use their religion as an excuse for deciding such practices for anyone but themselves.

    The Greenes are guilty of dishonesty with their false claims, and that is considered sinful by so-called Christian standards. Of course, we see it practiced broadly by the mouthy Christian right.

    Labor has its own rights, equal to management (ownership). After all, the Greene’s and the wealth of all management is only acquired by the labor of their employees. Investment is far from the only aspect of business. Labor must be honored as an equal partner. All partners must practice good ethics.

    The Greenes are liars. Their dishonesty is not good ethics. Neither is their greed or their deceitful efforts to use their religion as an excusing cover for depressing the deserved income of labor for its part in business. The Greenes share in that deceit with the Koch brothers and the vast majority of the right-wing discontents of the 1% who share Mitt Romney’s contempt for the “47%.”

    They also share religious deceit with the Catholic majority of the Supreme Court of the United States, Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito who consistently use their position for the economic advantage of the oligarchy of this country to which they belong and/or aspire. In spite of Scalia’s pompous claim to regard no other legal system but the U.S. Constitution, he leads the rest of the Catholic majority in following his church’s canon law rather than our Constitution. That is the Catholic majority that dared to declare that money is speech and corporations are people. That Catholic SCOTUS majority and people like the Greenes make Catholicism and the precepts of Jesus ugly with their distortions.

  • Well, it is possible to be honestly religious and support same-sex marriage. First you must recognize and admit that the literature of the bible is ancient mythology, especially the Old Testament. It pre-dated all science. Remember, the earth was flat–and it was created by a god in six days. Even Jesus and his followers–who were Jews, by the way, not “Christians”–believed that literally.

    We know almost everything more about history than those ancient mythologists knew or wrote. There is science. There is sociology. There is psychology. There are vast areas of knowledge that biblical writers couldn’t imagine. They were people–one might say, victims–of their own ancient, ignorant culture.

    It’s not that they were bad–even though they wrote badly about a lot of bad things. That’s how they saw and imagined their world. It couldn’t be otherwise with their extremely limited knowledge. They were mired in ignorance. Mythology evolved out of such ignorance of reality. It continues to do so for individuals and the whole human race.

    Good and true religion must always be open to all new, true learning. When it closes the door against any new learning, as we see so often, religion itself becomes evil.

  • In all fairness, Kennedy has been a social liberal in a bunch of cases.

    Hobby Lobby does not share the support of corporate America the same way Citizens United did. They see this as a direct assault on the benefits of incorporation which serves public companies so well. When the political system already works to your advantage, you don’t want to upset the apple cart on personal crusades like what Greene has engaged in.

    Although Kennedy is a fan of big business, the idea of corporate religious belief may be too much for even him to accept. He has never worn his faith on his sleeve the way windbag Scalia does. Worst case scenario. I can see him shooting down Hobby Lobby’s religious freedom argument a priori but still find some case limited, not really precedential way to weaken the contraception mandate.

  • Jonathan Merritt makes a living attempting to destroy people and there is no target over which he salivates like conservative Christians. He wrote his first book trashing his father, a conservative Christian pastor who is a wonderful man.

    Merritt now is obsessed with trying to misrepresent and damage the Green family. They provide contraceptive care for all their employees and have for years. Merritt knows that but he misrepresents the Greens for only one reason, they are conservative Christians. The David Green family have done too much for the cause of Christ to suite Jonathan Merritt. He must now do all he can to discredit and ruin their reputation in the eyes of as many as he can.

    Merritt despises conservatives and especially those who are Christian and will go to any end to misrepresent and belittle them.

  • You don’t know the Green family. You have formed your opinions about them only from the hateful pen of Jonathan Merritt.

  • They are not FUNDING birth control of their choice, including very expensive birth control.

    Why? Why does someone else’s choice affect THEIR religious freedom?


  • Whatever women and their doctors decide should not be
    up for strangers to have any business in. The freedom should be for all not just the money and power.I have never seen one man worried if viagra would be covered, I believe it gods will if you have a problem in that area it’s gods will . Maybe telling you no more kids for you and we all know that would be the only reason to have sex.
    Men should have no control over a womens body… or the beliefs
    of one person should never infringe on others .
    Women are the shopers of hobby lobby so if they don’t care enogugh
    to put them out of business, then I’m sure men don’t care.
    women don’t stick together most of the time
    This court is for the corpration of the corporation discusting

  • We don’t need to know them and know it’s is wrong to force your religion on others. This is about health not God

  • Still don’t understand why the employer SHOULD cover contraception via health care. That act and discretion should be a decision between the two parties. Heck,they give out FREE condoms at your favorite Planned Parenthood (*gag*puke*). Purchase your own contraception, individually.
    Why is everyone walking around as if they are owed something, entitled to something and constantly using the word ‘rights’ without knowing what a ‘right’ is?
    “…since when is discrimination under the guise of religion…” Unbelievable statement from above; mainly in its inherent stupidity. Let’s see…, I give up beef for Lent and I walk by your hotdog stand in which you haven’t made a lot of money for the week and your family is going to probably starve a few days. I CHOOSE not to buy a hotdog from your stand and walk over to your competitor across the street selling fish tacos… are you going to sue me for religious discrimination? Or, because you didn’t simply get your way? Yes, I discriminated against your hotdog business based on a religious observation.
    Understand the difference of equal opportunity and trying to implement equality, because the latter is dangerous, unless of course you live in Russia, errrr Austin, TX