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When Life Begins: Justice In Zubik V. Burwell Case

Under the Affordable Care Act, almost all employers must provide health insurance to their employees. Along with this, all health insurance companies must cover contraceptive costs for women at no additional charge to their plans. So, indirectly, most employers are required to provide contraception to their employees. If a religious nonprofit employer objects to contraception for faith-based reasons, they are permitted to submit a one-page form to the federal government, allowing an insurance company to provide the birth control coverage directly to the employees without going through the religious nonprofit. Government officials will find a third-party insurer, without the involvement of the employer, to pay for and administer the contraceptive coverage.

Various religious nonprofit groups, most notably the Little Sisters of the Poor, have been speaking out against this, claiming that simply acting around them to provide employees with birth control does not remove them from the scenario. They claim that filling out the form is still facilitating something against their religious beliefs. The government argues that the accommodation removes them from the requirement, and this doesn’t qualify as a “substantial burden” according to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Supreme Court case Zubik vs. Burwell is a consolidation of seven cases objecting to the same type of ruling.

This case is being closely watched for different reasons. Some watch this case with arguments of women’s rights ready to fire off their tongues. Others say this case is the cross section of the pro-life movement and religious liberties, and still others see this as an example of religion and government overlapping where they should not.

In regards to this issue, The Atlantic published an article, titled “Women’s Health Takes a Backseat to Religion Again.” While the feminist in me itches to fight for women’s rights in this dissonance, something larger is at hand, something that, dare I say, matters more than women’s rights–something we here at Eastern refer to as justice. Before anyone can make rules about contraception, it is imperative that consumers know what is referred to as “contraception” is not always contraceptive.

Many people believe that birth control simply blocks the sperm from reaching the egg, and thus prevents pregnancy. However, it’s quite a bit more complicated than that. The most common birth control pills are varying concentrations of two hormones, estrogen and progesterone. Depending on the point in her menstrual cycle at which a woman takes this pill, it can in fact block ovulation and prevent fertilization altogether. In this case, the birth control is acting as a contraceptive. However, there is no simple way for a woman to know when her body is in this stage of her cycle; therefore, there is no guarantee that the ingested hormones are acting as contraception. If ovulation is not blocked, the estrogen has a negative feedback effect on the hypothalamus, which in turn prevents implantation. If the sperm and egg meet and cannot implant, the free-floating zygote is excreted from the body and an abortion occurs.

Conception is the moment a sperm and an egg together form a human life. I believe that life begins at egg activation, a more defined moment than conception. Embryonic development is a cascade of events, so there is no other reasonable moment in which “it” becomes a person than when that cascade begins, or is “activated.” The body develops from head to toe once this chain of events begins, so to pinpoint a later developmental stage in which one becomes a person wouldn’t make sense.

So what does all of this have to do with the Zubik v. Burwell case? I strongly believe that before any decisions on contraception are made, one needs to have a thorough understanding of what, in fact, contraception is. The “birth control” pill Ella is intended to “prevent pregnancy” up to five days after unprotected sex. It is called an “emergency contraceptive.” This is a completely false claim, for there is no way to prevent egg activation five days after the fact. I don’t think certain birth control methods (except for condoms and other true contraceptives) should be provided by religious nonprofits, because I don’t think they should be administered at all. If there is no way to be certain that a pill is not an abortifacient, it should not be legal, much less given freely to whomever requests it. Some say this claim is based on my religious beliefs and therefore shouldn’t be forced on everyone, and while my faith is the most important foundation of my life, this is rooted in something far simpler–justice. We shouldn’t argue about when life begins, for life is a continuum from the moment of egg activation. We shouldn’t argue about whether employers should provide health insurance that includes birth control, because any birth control method that one cannot know for certain is contraceptive should not be legal; to provide any pill with an outcome of murder is ludicrous.

Sources: The Atlantic, drugs.com, National Center for Biotechnology Information, SCOTUSblog.com

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