Pelosi's office retreats on Hobby Lobby "ban" claim

Earlier in the week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi aptly captured the uninformed hysteria on the Left prompted by the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. In a press conference on Thursday, Pelosi told reporters that the decision meant “[t]hat five guys should start determining what contraceptions are legal or not … [t]that five men should get down to the specifics of whether a woman should use a diaphragm[.]” Megyn Kelly shredded this claim on Fox News later that night in a memorable segment.


That caught the attention of Politifact, but also Pelosi’s office, which rushed to walk back the boss’ remarks with the fact-checkers. The site assigned Pelosi a “false” rating anyway, but they should have taken a closer look at the walkback, too (via Twitchy):

We can eliminate any reader suspense by sharing the response Pelosi’s office sent PolitiFact after we inquired: “She misspoke,” spokesman Drew Hammill acknowledged. “Obviously the impact of the court’s decision is not to make these four contraceptive methods illegal – i.e. no longer allowed to be sold.”

Hammill went on to explain that Pelosi’s “overriding point” was that the decision “does in fact limit access … which is the key point Pelosi made.” He pointed to portions of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent in which Ginsburg notes that IUDs are expensive and that removing company support for them could leave some female employees without the “most effective” medical option for their needs.

No, that was not the “overriding point” — and even if it was, it’s still nonsense. The Hobby Lobby decision does not limit access, and access to birth control hasn’t been an issue since Griswold. Anyone who wants it can buy it, and any employer who desires to provide it as part of health insurance coverage is still free to do so. Eighty-five percent of employer-provided health insurance already did that before the HHS contraception mandate was imposed on businesses, while almost every plaintiff against the mandate did not. Moreover, the CDC’s 26-year study of unplanned pregnancies found no evidence of a lack of access to birth control as a contributing cause to the issue from 1982-2008.


The walkback itself perpetuated another lie, but Politifact skips it in favor of a regurgitation of the “ban” argument:

Indeed, one of Pelosi’s later comments from the news conference — when she focused on the issue of who pays for contraceptives, rather than whether they remain legal — seems to be on firmer ground. She expressed concern “that five men could get down to specifics of whether a woman should use a diaphragm and (whether) she should pay for it herself, or her boss. It’s not her boss’ business. The business is whatever his business is, but it’s not what contraception she uses.”

Is this really “on firmer ground”? It’s the same argument under another pretext — that by not paying for a woman’s contraception, it’s a de facto ban, this time by bosses rather than the courts. It again assumes that something is “banned” and inaccessible because you can’t get someone else to buy it for you. That’s absurd on its face, but oddly Politifact never really gets around to addressing this “firmer ground.” They just note that the courts aren’t going to ban contraception as a result of Hobby Lobby, and that women (and men) can still buy it on their own.

You know what that does? It makes it their own private business, and not that of their bosses the way it would if the employees demanded that the bosses pay for it. This should have gotten a “pants on fire” rating, and Politifact should have been more circumspect with their own claims within this fact check.


By the way, those aren’t the only claims needing a fact check these days. Remember when the Obama administration argued that contraception coverage would be cost-free to employers and insurers because of the savings it produces? The New York Times took a close look at that claim this week, and discovered that it’s also false:

Studies the departments cited are suggestive, but far from definitive. A fuller review of the literature on the cost and cost offsets of contraceptive coverage by Daniel Liebman, a colleague, finds that the evidence is thin that, from an insurer’s perspective, contraceptive coverage pays for itself in the long term. Moreover, it almost certainly does not in the short. The cost of contraceptive coverage is immediate, and the possible offsets (reduced pregnancies) are downstream, often years in the future. …

According to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, though the proportion of Americans with no cost-sharing for contraceptives rose in 2013 to 50 percent from 20 percent, prescriptions written for contraceptive medications increased only 4.6 percent.

But when they begin to fully cover contraception, insurers take on its full cost, “crowding out” the willingness of individuals to self-insure for it. Therefore, the government’s accommodation of religious organizations’ objections to covering contraception (obliging insurance companies to pick up the cost of the coverage, with no offsetting premiums or cost-sharing from either employees or employers) may impose a cost on insurers, even though contraception is cost-effective for society as a whole.

To be sure, insurers’ upfront costs may be low, a small fraction of overall premiums. However, just because it’s proportionally small doesn’t necessarily make it easy for insurers to handle. For this reason, the administration’s accommodation has already been met with some resistance. (A variant of the government’s accommodation includes a reimbursement by the government of contraceptive costs to some, but not all, insurers.)

The majority of the Supreme Court is correct in saying that the government has other means to ensure that women receive contraceptive coverage. But it is far less clear that that that coverage would be without cost, and it almost certainly would not be in the short term.


This does play a role in Obama administration’s argument in the so-called “accommodation,” as mentioned above. The idea is that by enabling the insurer to bypass the employer, the employer would have no burden on religious expression in part because premiums would remain stable, so they would not have to pay more for that coverage. There are other issues with the accommodation, but the core argument also fails. And if the government wants to cover those costs, they don’t have to force employers to act as their agents to do so.

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