World & Nation

Column:  What do the Hobby Lobby backers want women to be?

Supreme Court
Demonstrators react to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of Hobby Lobby.
(Olivier Douliery / MCT)

In the fallout surrounding last week’s Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision, a lot of people have been wondering exactly what role the Christian right thinks women should play in society and how birth control detracts from it.

The case focused on four types of birth control that Hobby Lobby believes (contrary to science) cause abortions rather than prevent pregnancy. But from the dissenting justices to a big swath of the commentariat and to a cascade of related cases that will be decided in light of Hobby Lobby — including claims from institutions that say that indirectly OKing insurance coverage for some or any contraceptives is religiously repugnant — it seems that birth control in general has a conservative religious target on its back.

Are the objectors worried that control of one’s reproduction is a sure path to promiscuity? Is it that family planning in the context of marriage represents a slap in the face to a higher, divine plan? Is it the “abortion as birth control” syllogism the antiabortion camp likes to trot out?

Worse, are the birth control objectors looking to keep their female employees either perennially pregnant or perennially celibate — perhaps, in the case of Hobby Lobby, in order to sell them knitting kits for the crafting of baby booties or to kill time before they die alone as spinster virgins?


For starters, as much as I object to the majority’s reasoning, the ruling’s implications aren’t as draconian as all that. Because there are workarounds that would allow a third party (for example the government) to step in and provide coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptives, Hobby Lobby doesn’t have to.

Nonetheless it’s hard not to see the five Roman Catholic, male justices (and their fans) who tipped the balance toward Hobby Lobby, and later gave a bit of a nod to the claim that the workaround might be problematic too, as dangerously out of step with the rest of the country.

They “want to return to a time when women were barefoot and pregnant,” said a woman quoted by several news sites, at a protest against a new Hobby Lobby store in Burbank on Monday.

Really? A new Christian movie, making the rounds of churches, not theaters, might help answer that question.


“Virtuous” is billed as a modern version of Proverbs 31 (the one about the woman worth a truckload of rubies). The goal is to empower women to “live righteously while remaining unapologetic in their beliefs.”

The film, starring Erik Estrada (of “ChiPs” fame) with a small role for former Iraq POW Jessica Lynch, tells intersecting stories of women who struggle with an unethical boss, a boorish husband and a would-be rapist. It’s not a film that invites discussion of its artistic merits. But it does offer insight into how conservative Christian female characters differ from the primarily secular variety.

In “Virtuous,” the heroines keep their clothes on and salvation comes not from a girl-finds-boy happy ending as much as girl-finds-Jesus. But the archetypes and story arcs are familiar as it gets: The tough girl softens, the career woman learns how to take a step back, the emotionally battered wife stands up for herself. Substitute “go to therapy” for “go to church” and it could be any Lifetime movie of the week.

The film seems to operate under the assumption of the religious right that admirable behavior is largely, if not exclusively, the domain of people of their particular brand of faith, and that others have radically different priorities than honest, churchgoing folk. For instance, one side cares about “values.” The other frets about who’s going to pay for their birth control.

That’s a weak game, for sure. But it’s one secular liberals like to play too. Accusing the Christian right of trying to keep women barefoot and pregnant is a first shot across the bow.

I am disappointed and even angered by the Supreme Court’s decisions. I hope cases fighting the workaround go nowhere. I think all employers that provide health insurance should cover all forms of FDA-approved contraception, without loopholes or workarounds.

But I’m not convinced that those who disagree with me about acceptable contraceptives and insurance coverage are automatically precluded from agreeing with me about anything else.


Twitter: @meghan_daum

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