Is The Conscience Clause About Anyone’s Conscience?

Source: Bryancalabro
Source: Bryancalabro

The Affordable Health Care Act includes a provision that forces insurance companies to provide preventative care for women without demanding a co-pay.

The conscience clause came into effect when the Obama administration, with input from Health and Human resources and among others, decided that birth control would be included in this preventative care for women. The clause was put into place to exempt religious employers who employ mostly those of their own religion and who object to birth control. That would allow churches and some church-affiliated organizations to opt out of the new requirement.

However, many religious groups and individuals are not satisfied with this. They want Catholic hospitals and universities to be exempt, and some private companies, such as Hobby Lobby, wants to opt out because the owners are anti birth control. The problem was these large entities employed people of all sorts of faiths so are not currently exempt.

It is important to note that the birth control preventive care provision does not change the conscience clause for providers: “our rule has no effect on the long-standing conscience clause protections for providers, which allow a Catholic doctor, for example, to refuse to write a prescription for contraception.” -Kathleen Sebelius (source)

Is the conscience clause for birth control necessary?

Unless the group consists of ardent Catholics who oppose birth control on the grounds that all married couples should be fruitful (so does not include the 83% of sexually-active Catholic women using birth control (source)), those who invoke the conscience clause are almost exclusively pro-life and do so on the grounds that some types of birth control cause abortions particularly emergency contraception and this violates their religious beliefs. The family who own Hobby Lobby is an example. (source)

However, more and more studies are coming out that show emergency contraception such as Plan B, do not keep fertilized eggs from implanting; thus, are not abortifactants. They keep the egg and sperm from ever meeting and making a baby by delaying ovulation. A study just last year proved Plan B is only effective if a woman has not ovulated and has no influence on implantation. (source) However, there have been studies since 2001 on this that are consistently ignored. (source)

This is frustrating since Plan B is the most commonly considered issue when non-Catholic groups, physicians and pharmacists wish to lean on the conscience clause. One must ask why science is so easily discarded in the United States not just by the pro-life movement but by the FDA, media outlets and the medical community.

Of course, this isn’t the only contraception available to women nor a preferred method although it is the one most cited in the argument for a broader conscience clause. The most popular contraception that would be covered under the preventive health care provision are daily birth control pills. Pro-life people also struggle with this because while no study has proven that the birth control pill prevents implantation when it fails to prevent ovulation, there is one study that saw it changed endometrial wall integrins and another study that saw that endometrial wall changes can be a factor in infertility so those have been put together to “prove” the abortion possibility with BCP.

Even if we concede that BCP may cause abortions when they rarely fail to stop ovulation, I saw some interesting math the other day. The number of times in a given year, the birth control pill would cause a fertilized egg to not implant is 2. The number of times in a given year a woman would naturally miscarry a fertilized egg in a given year is 6. Being on the birth control pill would save 4 lives a year per woman. I’ll let the blogger who posted on the subject go through the math (she uses number straight from pro-life literature).

The anti-birth control crowd leaves out one very important fact: a woman’s body naturally rejects at least 18% of fertilized eggs. This means that if you have unprotected sex that leads to the fertilization of an egg (30% chance of successful fertilization), the resulting zygote has an 18% chance of being rejected by the uterus. The human body naturally performs “abortions” almost 20% of the time. So does taking birth control actually increase the chances of zygote abortion, or does birth control actually reduce the chances of this occurring? Let’s do the math.

Without Birth Control:
Out of 100 fertile women without birth control, 100 of them will ovulate in any given month.
Out of those 100 released eggs, 33 will become fertilized.
Out of those 33, 18% will be rejected by the uterus.
In a group of 100 women not on birth control: 6 zygotes will “die”

With Birth Control:
Out of 100 fertile women on birth control, around 6 of them will ovulate in any given month.
Out of those 6 released eggs, only 2 will become fertilized.
Out of those 2, 100% will be rejected by the uterus.
In a group of 100 women on birth control: 2 zygotes will “die”

So let’s get this straight, taking birth control makes a woman’s body LESS likely to dispel fertilized eggs. If you believe that life begins at conception, shouldn’t it be your moral duty to reduce the number of zygote “abortions?” If you believe that a zygote is a human, you actually kill more babies by refusing to take birth control. (source)

And for those who are tempted to argue about natural versus unnatural abortions, the birth control pills are saving lives just like vaccines or penicillin or chemotherapy or the NICU or all the unnatural ways we save children these days. If the goal is life, shouldn’t we be doing all we can to keep the unborn alive? If they were outside the uterus and had to take a pill everyday to stay alive, we’d do it. If my taking a pill made my child three times more likely to stay alive, I’d do it.

But maybe the issue isn’t exactly about life as much as choice and sex and women.

Because there are already multiple studies that prove access to birth control reduces abortions (most recent one), but the pro-life community doesn’t celebrate these studies. And more importantly, restricting access to abortion, which is all pro-life politicians and voters seem to be interested in doing these days, have actually been shown to have no reductive effect on abortion rates except to increase the morbidity and mortality in women with 47,000 women dying each year from unsafe abortions. (source) However, countries with liberal access to abortion have much lower rates of abortion.

For example, the abortion rate is 29 per 1,000 women of childbearing age in Africa and 32 per 1,000 in Latin America–regions in which abortion is illegal under most circumstances in the majority of countries. The rate is 12 per 1,000 in Western Europe, where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds. (source)

If the Catholic community is so adamantly against birth control, regardless of the consequences to the unborn or health of the living, why are they not up in arms about the abortions restrictions going on the United States? Those restriction, based on lies not faith, are and will clearly cause more harm and death.

The pro-life movement just ignores data and science even when it could save the very lives it professes to fight for. Putting aside the Catholic Church’s stance on birth control, why isn’t the rest of the pro-life movement doing everything to save the unborn at the moment of fertilization including loudly supporting a health care provision that allows for easier access to birth control and a narrow conscience clause?

Whose conscience could ever be clear when fighting against the very thing that could save more lives than anything anti-abortion groups have done in the last forty years — birth control.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

12 thoughts to “Is The Conscience Clause About Anyone’s Conscience?”

  1. You’ve hit the nail on the head when you state that it’s actually about “But maybe the issue isn’t exactly about life as much as choice and sex and women.” It’s a control issue, and this is another way that the anti-choice crowd is attempting to control the decisions of women by removing choices and options.

    1. Once upon a time, it may have been about when life begins and the dilemma of whose life is more important, but once the pro-life movement chose to distort and ignore science and truth, it became about anti-choice and not about anybody’s life. I feel for people who don’t realize what has happened to their movement because they are pro-life from their hearts and don’t understand that the morality has been completely lost, which is why I continue to try to get the facts out there.

  2. This is brilliant, and a point I’d NEVER considered.
    It’s also another example of why I love coming here.

    You make me think.
    Thinking is good.

    Late Enough = Good.

    That’s about all the math I need.

    1. Thanks. The sources really made me think as well. I didn’t know all these facts. I knew birth control reduces abortions because of not having unintended pregnancies and I had heard the NPR coverage of the newest Plan B studies proving AGAIN it wasn’t an abortifactant, but I didn’t know all the math and I didn’t realize how far back the Plan B studies go yet the myths remains. It’s scary how hard it is for science to help people even when it would do exactly what every side would want — less need for abortions.

  3. I think the issue is controlling women, or denying them the ability to exercise control over their own lives. I am deeply uncomfortable with abortion, and don’t think i could ever bring myself to have one. But i’m not interested in making abortion illegal. I want our society to quit making childbearing such a risk and burden for women. Then fewer women will feel desparate enough to abort. When one listens to the rhetoric about pregnant women from the right wing, the tone is very punishing – she should have made better decisions, she needs to learn, she has to get consequences for what she did. “She” always needs to be punished. But it is our lack of a safety net, our general treatment of people that they need to fight their way to the top or be left at the bottom, that makes having a baby such a terrible prospect.

    1. I definitely think it’s a damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation for women. Basically, women shouldn’t have a sex life until they want children. And men? well, they are just men? The fact is that birth control pills and Plan B should be areas both sides could come together on if it wasn’t about control because we’d be prioritizing reducing abortions.

    1. I hate the idea that women are too stupid or rash or uniformed to figure out whether she should continue the pregnancy or not — having a uterus should not make me an incubator.

  4. What I think it comes down to is as simple as this: Choice.
    Who are we to decide what a woman wants to do with her body/life etc.
    And just like any choice, no one has the right to judge it.

    1. The judgement is the worst part. People think they know what they would do, but they have no idea until it’s them or their daughter and their dreams and life and body. How all those sinless protesting Christians became so good at throwing the first stone-shaped-like-an-aborted-fetus, I’ll never know.

  5. I love that you don’t just give your opinion, but you research it and back it up with numbers and legit facts and stats. Yours are not rants, but excellent arguments. Come to think of it, your writing is exactly what I try to teach my students to do.

    Also, I agree with you. So there’s that 🙂

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