· The NIH website says of hormonal contraceptives in general: "these pills can prevent ovulation; thicken cervical mucus, which helps block sperm from reaching the egg; or thin the lining of the uterus." Thinning of the uterine lining inhibits implantation of a fertilized egg. Another page at NIH states, "The pill also does not allow the lining of the womb to develop enough to receive and nurture a fertilized egg."
· The NIH states about the copper IUD: "If fertilization of the egg does occur, the physical presence of the device prevents the fertilized egg from implanting into the lining of the uterus."
Yet, despite these statements, abortion (and embryocide) opponents are repeatedly charged with lacking education and basing concerns about these medicines on "belief." Those who disagree with the drug labels and the NIH verbiage claim to simply be "satisfied with the science," offering personal speculations to explain the labelling such as "scientists, being scientists, will always answer 'yes' when you frame a question that way." Now, this may in fact be the case.
And it may be the case that new research (made public after the Hobby Lobby case began) will change the scientific consensus about these methods. But concerns about possible abortifacient mechanisms of some birth control methods are not based on belief but on scientific statements. It's a strange state of affairs when the people citing the medical community are said to basing their views on religious belief, and those basing their views on speculative theories claim they are the only ones with science on their side.
Given this data, I have to question Hobby Lobby's lack of consistency in not opposing all forms of hormonal birth control whose labels describe the same possible mechanisms. This is not to say, however, that a hypothetical that nags my conscience is a basis for which I'd offer a mandate for others, a point articulated recently in an article by my friend and fellow Christianity Today writer, Rachel Marie Stone. (The fact is that Hobby Lobby covers nearly all the birth control methods advocated in the article, which garnered high praise from some of the company's most vocal critics.)
Why does any of this still matter now that the Hobby Lobby case is closed?
It matters because the essential issue—which transcends Hobby Lobby, birth control, and even abortion——remains: the need to use common language in order not to talk past each other. When it comes down to it, most of this debate hasn't really been about birth control at all.
Karen Swallow Prior is professor of English at Liberty University and a regular writer for Her.meneutics.