Valley Forge Christian College Files Birth Control Lawsuit, Because It Believes Plan B Causes Abortions

Welcome to 2014, where we officially have terms like "Hobby Lobby-esque." Here's how you use it in a real-life example: Valley Forge Christian College filed a birth control lawsuit last week, becoming the latest religious college to challenge the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate because of "sincerely held religious beliefs." If that excuse sounds familiar, it's because it was the one put forward by the Green family in the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case, which Valley Forge referenced in its lawsuit against the federal government.

Located just outside the famed Valley Forge National Park in eastern Pennsylvania, Valley Forge is a modest college, with just 1,040 students and 33 full-time faculty. The private, four-year institution is a member of an Assemblies of God network of colleges and universities. (The Assemblies of God is a Pentecostal Christian denomination that tends to favor conservative values and evangelization. )

Because of its religious affiliation, Valley Forge is already exempted from providing insurance coverage of contraception, including the morning-after pill, due to the special federal accommodation for religious institutions, schools and nonprofits. Under the accommodation, religious-affiliated entities can sign a waiver authorizing an insurance company or a third-party administrator to cover contraceptives. But for Valley Forge, even that accommodation allegedly violate's the school's religious beliefs:

Valley Forge's religious beliefs forbid it from participating in, providing access to, paying for or designating others to pay for certain drugs, devices or procedures, which harm or terminate a fertilized egg. Because of this sincerely held religious belief, Valley Forge Christian College cannot ... participate in the so-called "Religious Accommodation," which would cause it to facilitate, participate and assist in actions resulting in the provision of potentially life threatening drugs and devices, which harm a fertilized human egg.

The lawsuit clarifies that Valley Forge is not objecting to contraception that "truly and only" prevents fertilization and doesn't "interfere with the continued survival" of a fertilized egg or embryo. Just like the Hobby Case, this isn't about the Pill or other types of hormonal contraception that women take to block ovulation. But just like the Hobby Lobby case, Valley Forge is using the guise of "sincerely held religious beliefs" to peddle medical inaccuracies and false science. If the Hobby Lobby ruling is any indication, Valley Forge may get its way.

According to the lawsuit, Valley Forge objects to abortion and "abortion-related drugs and procedures." Yet what is an abortion-related drug versus what is believed to be an abortion-related drug has been one of the most troubling aspects of these Hobby Lobby-esque lawsuits.

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"The Health and Human Services preventive services mandate forces businesses to provide the morning-after and the week-after pills in our health insurance plans," Hobby Lobby CEO David Green said back in 2013. "These abortion-causing drugs go against our faiths."

Yet the claim that emergency contraception such as Plan B "harms" a fertilized egg and causes an abortion have been debunked in recent years. In 2012, a New York Times analysis concluded that there's no scientific evidence supporting the claim. Scientists say emergency contraception merely prevents ovulation from occurring, but does not block a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman's uterus.

Then there's the FDA's description of Plan B, which doesn't include the words "abortion" or "abortifacient":

Plan B One-Step is an emergency contraceptive intended to reduce the chance of pregnancy following unprotected sexual intercourse or a known or suspected contraceptive failure (e.g., condom). Plan B One-Step is a single-dose pill (1.5 mg tablet) that is effective in decreasing the chance of pregnancy ... Plan B One-Step will not stop a pregnancy when a woman is already pregnant and there is no medical evidence that the product will harm a developing fetus.

Just this month, a Princeton University study reaffirmed that emergency contraception is not equivalent to abortion. In fact, the researchers found that using emergency contraception is safer than pregnancy, especially in areas where women don't have access to early abortion services. The researchers also stated that having access to emergency contraception will certainly help women prevent unwanted pregnancy and the need for abortion.

However, increasing barriers to emergency contraception access has made it harder for women to take emergency contraception at the correct time — or at all. Without having open access and the proper education of how to use emergency contraception correctly, we'll never know just how effective the drugs will be when it comes to lowering the abortion rate.

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To be sure, we are free to have our religious beliefs in the United States. But what's becoming more dangerous since Hobby Lobby opened the floodgates for these types of lawsuits is the claim the just by signing a waiver granting the right to female students or employees to use emergency contraception is somehow violating an institution's religious belief. That's not refusing to pay for or provide contraception — that's withholding access.

And it's not like Valley Forge Christian College is an outlier. Within days of the Hobby Lobby ruling, the Supreme Court issued an injunction to Wheaton College, one of the many Christian colleges that filed a federal lawsuit against the HHS mandate and the religious accommodation. The Supreme Court said Wheaton College was spared from the exemption while its court case is pending — effectively going back on its promise to limit the Hobby Lobby ruling to the businesses in question.

In a dissent of the emergency injunction, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote:

I do not doubt that Wheaton genuinely believes that signing the self-certification form is contrary to its religious beliefs. But thinking one’s religious beliefs are substantially burdened — no matter how sincere or genuine that belief may be — does not make it so.

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