Rachel Held Evans has recently written a lengthy blog post expressing her take on the morality of contraception. She says that evangelical thinking on the matter has been distorted by “male privilege” and by misguided statements from Republican politicians.
In the background of her discussion are the many Christians who have been raising religious liberty concerns about Obamacare’s contraception mandate. She says that evangelical objections to the mandate have been misinformed and that Christians need to “avoid making generalizations about the millions of women and families who say they would benefit from affordable, accessible contraception.”
Readers might be surprised to learn that Evans identifies herself as a “pro-life” Christian, even as she admits that she finds it hard to believe that human life begins at conception. Even though the moral status of the unborn is the central issue, she dubs the matter a “rabbit trail.” We are sure we are not the only ones who find her “pro-life” claim to be quite unconvincing. Her uncertainty about the status of the unborn is the exact type of equivocation that makes progressive evangelical ethics problematic and myopic, as one of us has written elsewhere.
In any case, this is not even the central weakness of her article. In making the case for contraception, she fails to engage the central moral reasons that evangelicals and Roman Catholics have opposed the Obamacare mandate—that it requires them to participate in morally reprehensible behavior and runs roughshod over religious liberty.
Evangelicals and Roman Catholics agree that many of the birth control technologies mandated by Obamacare can induce abortion. Evans denies that this is a legitimate concern for birth control pills. Then, astonishingly, she concedes that even with the pill, “There’s the very remote chance that fertilization will somehow manage to occur. In this case the zygote will probably fail to implant on the uterine wall.” Since she is not sure whether life begins at conception, it is not surprising that this possibility does not trouble her. But it is quite troubling to those of us who are actually pro-life.
Obamacare also requires coverage for IUD’s—a technology that everyone agrees to have an abortifacient mechanism. Evans does not even acknowledge this as a problem. Again, where is her “pro-life” concern? She raises no moral qualms about destroying human life at its earliest stages with IUD’s.
Evans also denies any moral concerns with so-called “morning after pills.” She argues that “Plan B does not inhibit implantation but instead blocks fertilization.” What she fails to acknowledge is that Plan B is not the only morning-after pill mandated by Obamacare. Ella is also covered under the mandate, and the studies that appear to vindicate Plan B do no such thing for Ella. The FDA still lists an abortifacient mechanism of action for both of these drugs, but again Evans does not inform her readers of these facts.
Evans also fails to engage the religious liberty concerns of evangelicals and Roman Catholics. The contraception mandate requires pro-life business owners to purchase insurance plans that cover abortion-inducing technologies. We believe that this mandate represents one of the most egregious violations of religious liberty in American history. Evans does not have to agree with pro-life concerns about the morality of these technologies. But why is she taking the side of Caesar against pro-life persons with sincere religious objections? How can she possibly support forcing Evangelicals and Catholics to participate?
Evans concludes her article saying, “Christians especially must be committed to telling the truth and getting our facts straight, or else we risk losing credibility in the conversation and leading the faithful astray.” We couldn’t agree more. But in this case, Evans is the one who needs to get her facts straight, not Evangelicals and Catholics who stand on principle against the Obamacare mandate.
Denny Burk is the author of What Is the Meaning of Sex?. He also writes a daily commentary on theology, politics, and culture at DennyBurk.com. Andrew Walker is the Director of Policy Studies for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.