Political Animal


October 03, 2012 4:11 PM The Bible Tells Me So!

By Ed Kilgore

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.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Frank Wilhoit on October 03, 2012 4:14 PM:

    Faith-based nullification. Nothing more or less; call it by no other name.

  • alkali on October 03, 2012 4:21 PM:

    ... 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) ...

    "Cf." is, of course, an abbreviation for the Latin confabulatio, which roughly translates as "the sources I am about to cite here don't really support my claim."

  • Ronald on October 03, 2012 4:27 PM:

    So you don't have to:
    Jeremiah 1:5:
    "“Before I formed you in the womb I knew[a] you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."
    (wrong example- this is talking about God knowing Jeremiah before he was even conceived
    Genesis 1:26
    "Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

    Again. A totally inappropriate verse for saying life begins at conception, only that God has made humans 'in God's own image'


    And these people print bibles for a living?

    Jesus must be rolling over in His...oh wait. Scratch that... ;)

  • c u n d gulag on October 03, 2012 4:29 PM:

    Can the company then deny coverage to someone who had food poisoning from eating a bad oyster/clam/crab/lobster/shrimp?
    According to the Bible, those foods are verboten.

    Can they deny a wife hospital coverage if her husband beat her severely because she didn't have dinner on time?
    Beating the wife is ok in Bible.

    And that's just in the Bible!

    You then have to respect the Koran, too!
    And won't that be bringing in the Sharia Law these morons fear?

    These people are scary idiots and monsters.

    Let them move to countries in South and Central America where abortions are outlawed.

    The problem is, with enough right wing jurists in this country, the outcome of this lunacy is unsure. In a sane country, these people would be laughed at, and told to STFU, pay their bills, and keep their noses out of their employees business.
    What, too Catholic for the Evangelicals?

  • Peter C on October 03, 2012 4:46 PM:

    The idea that 'fertilization' and 'implantation' are distinctions addressed in the Bible is absurd. It was not until the invention of the microscope that the mechanics of conception were really understood. "Eggs" and "Sperm" were not introduced as medical concepts until the 1600s because without a microscope, they are invisible.

  • Ethan on October 03, 2012 4:55 PM:

    @Peter C - To the true believer, God wrote the whole thing, and presumably he knew about the distinction even if Moses didn't (also quantum electrodynamics). I had a friend get a call from one of these people who explained that God put the concept of cosmological inflation in the bible and that it was part of the Jewish liturgy. After much confusion my friend managed to figure out that they were talking about the Alenu, and specifically a line that that refers to God "stretching out the heavens". :-)

  • JCtx on October 03, 2012 4:58 PM:

    The thing that most of these people who don't want to provide access to health insurance that covers contraception is that it is not the employer that is purchasing the insurance, it is the employee. In most cases the employee pays some if not all of the cost of the insurance, not the employer. And the part of the cost covered by the employer is considered to be employee compensation. So when an employer (in this case, the morons at Tyndale House Publishers) states that they do not want to provide health insurance that covers contraception (or anything else they don't like), what they are really saying is that they want to force their employees to follow the employer's religious beliefs.

  • Peter C on October 03, 2012 4:59 PM:

    Yes @Ethan, but it always seems as silly to me as Gus (the father character in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding) inventing a Greek derivation for the word "kimono".

  • JMG on October 03, 2012 5:01 PM:

    Within a decade, some state will pass a law stating employers have the total right to enforce their religious beliefs, including mandatory worship sessions in the workplace. All fundamentalist religions are the same, totalitarian enemies of mankind.

  • Chris on October 03, 2012 5:12 PM:

    Uh . . . it seems pretty clear from what you quoted above that Tyndale House Publishers is claiming to know from Scripture that abortion is morally wrong, not that contraceptives cause abortions. Claiming scriptural warrant for the claim that contraceptives cause abortions would indeed be absurd - that is a scientific question. But Tyndale House Publishers did not make that claim. You've mischaracterized their view.

  • jsjiowa on October 03, 2012 5:27 PM:

    JCtx, I'd go farther: even if the employer is paying the full-cost of the health insurance, the employee has earned that benefit (in lieu of wages in that amount), and the insurance belongs to the employee. These employers act as if what they pay towards benefits is some kind of a gift that entitles them to dictate the terms; can you imagine the uproar if they tried to tell you how or where you can spend your salary? Earned benefits should be treated no differently. And the employer trying to impose his religious beliefs through an insurance policy violates my right to free exercise of religion.

  • ducky on October 03, 2012 6:29 PM:

    The great thing about being an Evangelical is that there is no historical tradition you need to adhere to like Catholics do; everything they teach is based on 'revelation' from God.

  • zandru on October 03, 2012 7:04 PM:

    "respect for the inviolable sanctity of the life of every human being"

    Funny, how that "sanctity" only applies while the "human being" is inside a woman. Otherwise, it is frequently hunky-dory to slaughter, even commit genocide, if the other "sacred human lives" hold property that you covet --er, are given by Gawd.

  • Sparko on October 03, 2012 7:16 PM:

    They really like Sharia Law don't they? Would not any religion be able to opt out of civic responsibility?

    You cannot decry one form of religious intolerance and oppose another. The right answer is to strip these political businesses (most religion) of special status.

  • g on October 03, 2012 8:11 PM:

    So how far do you take this? Do you argue, based on the Bible, that US Government benefits like food stamps may not be used to cover the purchase of shellfish or pork?

  • paul on October 04, 2012 8:33 AM:

    Printing presses and paper mills typically run 24/7. Just sayin'.

    Next: the right to stone all employees you suspect of adultery.

  • Gov't Mule on October 04, 2012 9:02 AM:

    Any litigant that sues for religious exemption from the Obama Administration's decision regarding co-pays on birth control will have to deal with the recent SCOTUS decision, Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC, decided last January by the Roberts Court.

    The shocking thing is not a single person in the traditional media mentioned that Hosanna Tabor basically allowed the Obama Administration to write those new regulations. Here's why:

    Hosanna Tabor was a case determining whether a school employee who occasionally taught some religious classes, was exempt from EEOC rulings because the school/church considered them to be clergy.

    SCOTUS ruled in favor of the Hosanna Tabor church and school, but in doing so, they very clearly defined the so-called "ministerial exception." The teacher was considered clergy, but individuals at religious schools who did not teach any religious classes were not.

    For practical purposes, that might mean that a divinity professor at Georgetown might be covered by the ministerial exception, but a geology professor would not. As a result, because of Hosanna Tabor, IMO religious affiliated organizations that don't qualify under the ministerial exception, will have to provide birth control to their employees w/o a co pay.

    The ironic thing is that Hosanna Tabor was a decision that conservatives supported, but once it starts getting applied in the real world on a regular basis, they may wish they hadn't