The Bible Tells Me So!

At Religion Dispatches Sarah Posner has a very thorough post on the latest efforts of conservative evangelicals to push for a broader religion-based exemption from HHS rules mandating contraception coverage for employees. A new litigant in the dispute is the Tyndale House Publishers, who produce Bibles. That’s interesting for two reasons: (1) this is a for-profit enterprise, whereas most religiously-affiliated organizations seeking exemption from the regs are non-profits; and (2) the publishers are claiming their reading of the Bibles they sell proves to them that the mandate involves not just contraceptives but abortifacients.

This latter argument is standard fare among both conservative Catholics and the evangelical Right, based on highly questionable “scientific” evidence that emergency contraceptives act to prevent implantation of a fertilized ovum rather than conception (some of these birds make the same claim about the standard oral contraceptive pills relied on by many millions of Americans). But Tyndale House Publishers go further and claim biblical evidence for that view:

Notwithstanding the FDA classification of ella and Plan B (which reflects the consensus in the medical community that these drugs prevent fertilization, not implantation), Tyndale insists that by forcing it to cover these drugs, the government is forcing it to contravene what Tyndale claims to know is true from the Bible:

“Among the biblical principles the company is committed to following is respect for the inviolable sanctity of the life of every human being as created in the image and likeness of God from the moment of conception/fertilization (cf. Jeremiah 1:5; Genesis 1:26).”

Posner wonders if this means the federal government is supposed to ignore medical evidence and base its definitions on every religious faction’s specific interpretation of Holy Scripture. But this draws attention to the enduring mystery of how conservative evangelical Protestants became so convinced that supporting the most extreme version of the anti-choice cause was not only a religious obligation, but the most important public policy issue of them all.

After all, Catholic anti-choicers are relying on a long tradition of Church teachings and natural-law doctrine, dating back to Aristotle. Sola Scriptura Protestants have no such tradition or doctrine. And if you read the two biblical passages cited by Tyndale in its lawsuit against HHS (involving vague references to the unborn), they hardly “prove” that life begins at fertilization, even to a believer in biblical inerrancy–much less that contraceptives operate in ways not accepted by scientific consensus.

All of this background is generally irrelevant to the case conservative evangelicals are making against the HHS regulations, since virtually all of them (along with the Republican Party) are backers of the Blunt Amendment, which would give any employer claiming religious or moral objections to the mandate a plenary pass. A Republican administration would gut the mandate instantly, even before it got around to gutting or repealing Obamacare, on which the mandate rests. But it’s interesting to see the “reasoning” of people who seem to oppose not only abortion but contraception on grounds–most likely hostility to the very idea that women have reproductive rights–that have little to do with respect for the Bible or human life.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.