The Political Roots and Ramifications of the Hobby Lobby Case

The Supreme Court has completed the quasi-religious ritual of oral argument in the Hobby Lobby case, which will decide whether a corporation can declare its piety and thus absolve itself of the need to follow laws it finds unworthy of divine blessing. Now all we need do is wait for Anthony Kennedy to deliver his judgment, and the question will be settled.

The consensus of those watching yesterday's arguments (see here, for example) was that though nothing is certain, Kennedy seemed to be leaning toward the position of the plaintiffs, and thus of every Republican in America. And it's that last part I want to talk about.

It's easy to know why the owners of the company themselves wanted to bring this case. Hobby Lobby's ownership mistakenly believes that if you use an IUD, you're committing little abortions left and right, and therefore that if their insurance covers IUDs (and a few other forms of contraception) then they're complicit in abortion. But what I'm wondering is, why is it that the GOP has worked itself up into what is almost a crusade against contraception?

I don't think anybody planned it that way. In fact, every time Republicans start talking about contraception, they end up digging themselves into a hole. You may remember how back in 2012, Rick Santorum first condemned contraception, saying it's "not okay because it's a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be," then quickly backtracked to say, "My position is birth control can and should be available"—in other words, if you use it you're a vile sinner destroying our society, but whatevs, have at it. Then just a few weeks later, Rush Limbaugh went off on Sandra Fluke, calling her a "slut" and a "prostitute" because she testified that the insurance plan she paid for ought to include contraception coverage. More recently, you had Mike Huckabee's colorful remarks about how slutty women are rushing to the embrace of "Uncle Sugar" who will provide them with contraception so they can go do their sluttly business.

As far as I can tell, there isn't a conservative anywhere who isn't taking Hobby Lobby's side in this case, despite the radical reimagining of the First Amendment they propose. Of course, the case involves more than just contraception, but I haven't seen anyone on the right say, for instance, that while they stand with Hobby Lobby in principle, all the publicity this case is getting is just one more thing convincing Americans that they're anti-contraception, and that's not going to do them any favors politically. Quite the contrary—from what I can tell they have no fear of any backlash.

That may be because they just don't care, so outraged are they by the idea that contraception would be part of a mandated package of benefits in an insurance plan. Or it could be that they imagine that the public is going to be on their side on this, and it'll win them lots of votes once everybody understands the Obama administration's War on Christianity. Or it could be that we got to this point because if there was any possible vehicle to undermine the Affordable Care Act, Republicans would not only pursue it but convince themselves it embodied freedom's very essence (this is what happened with their objection to the individual mandate). Or it could be all of the above.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I suspect that most Republicans don't actually realize that the "sex is sin" position has a really narrow constituency behind it. When you ask people whether birth control itself is morally acceptable, most polls show between 80 and 90 percent saying yes (see here, for example). That even includes people whose religious traditions reject it; three-quarters of Catholics want the Church to change its position on birth control. This probably isn't going to be a huge issue in November, but it is going to seriously compromise the long-term Republican effort to reach out to women and young people.

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