Erickson vs. Bartell Drugs

(A Catholic Perspective)

On July 19, Planned Parenthood of Western Washington filed a lawsuit against Bartell Drugs, a private, self-insured company based here in Seattle. The suit, Erickson vs. Bartell charges the company is violating Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which forbids discrimination on the basis of sex or pregnancy. The plaintiff, Jennifer Erickson, is a pharmacist at Bartell's. Her goal is to require Bartell's to cover contraceptives as part of their health care plan.

Jean Bartell Barber, chief financial officer of the company, made this response: "No medical program covers every possible cost. For example, we do not cover prescriptions for Viagra, infertility drugs, drugs for weight reduction, immunization agents, drugs for cosmetic purposes and various other items."

On one level this suit appears to be about pragmatic, financial concerns. However, for a Catholic who takes Jesus' teaching seriously, there are other things to consider. For us contraception is "intrinsically evil." (Catechism 2370) To require a committed Catholic to participate in a plan which pays for contraception would raise questions of conscience. None of us desires to interfere with another person's "lifestyle," but at the same time we should not be required to finance it - especially when it goes against a basic moral principle.

I know some Catholic couples have chosen to use contraception. Perhaps they felt they had no other alternative. However, in the case of birth control pills something more is involved than just preventing the conception of a new person. They can actually cause the destruction of a tiny human life. Although doctors will not always tell that to their patients, it is no medical secret. Planned Parenthood's own website gives this description of how "The Pill" works:

"'The Pill' is the common name for oral contraception. There are two basic types—combination pills and progestin-only pills. Both are made of hormones like those made by a woman's ovaries—estrogen and progestin. Combination pills contain both hormones. Progestin-only pills contain only progestin. Both kinds of pills require a medical evaluation and prescription.

"Both kinds of pills are intended to prevent pregnancy. But they work differently. Combination pills usually work by preventing a woman's ovaries from releasing eggs (ovulation). Progestin-only pills also can prevent ovulation. But they usually work by thickening the cervical mucus. This keeps sperm from joining with an egg. Combination pills also thicken cervical mucus. Both types of pill may also prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus (womb)."

What they refer to as "fertilized eggs" are tiny human beings. Their microscopic size does not detract from their dignity any more than a short person has less value than a basketball star. Some people say, "well, it sure doesn't look like a baby." But that is what a baby looks like when it is a few hours or a few days old. That's what you and I once looked like. At that point we were not simply part of our mother's body. Having chromosomes from both father and mother, we were distinct and rapidly growing little creatures.

Many say they just can't decide. They are unsure whether a newly conceived embryo is actually a human life. But that very uncertainty should restrain one from deliberately destroying it. Consider this comparison: When they were ready to implode the Kingdome last March, what would have happened if they suspected a small child had somehow gotten inside? Would they have gone ahead with its destruction? Even if they considered the presence of a child one chance in a thousand, I believe they would have held back. Should we not give the same consideration to those developing embryos?*

A final point: Some argue that not paying for contraceptives will place an unfair burden on women. However, one must ask if the widespread use of contraception has been a net benefit for women. The National Catholic Register had a provocative editorial on that subject:

"Promised as a way to equalize the situations of women and men, widespread contraception has done just the opposite. It has created a world that is a male chauvinist's dream: a world where sex is 'safe,' abortion legal and respect for women rarer than ever.

"Today we see what comes of unfettering the male sex drive from the checks that female biology puts on it. Women are expected to risk the many side-effects of the pill (migraine headaches and gum disease are just two) in order to be available for sex without consequence. Many men have grown to respect women less and less, so that today women are routinely marketed as products, from AT&T's Hot Network to the many explicit television commercials from network TV.

"Such a culture would be impossible in a world without contraception. To turn the tide, society will have to make contraception less available - not more."

--Fr. Phil Bloom
August 5, 2000


*Some argue that most "fertilized eggs" are not successfully implanted therefore we should not place too much importance on them. I have two questions: Where are the studies which prove that is the case? (I'm willing to believe it, but I have yet to see the convincing studies.) But more serious, why would that give anyone the right to terminate their existence? In the next decade, 8.8% of the U.S. population will die, in a century 99.9%. Does that give me the right to shoot a few people I find inconvenient?

See Discussion: The Embryo and the Human Person (What Percent of Zygotes Do Not Implant?)

Birth Control vs. Natural Family Planning

Abortion and Pro-Choice

How the Pill Works (Letter to Seattle Times by Peter Mactutis)

Judge Forces Bartell's to Include Contraception in Health Plan (June 13, 2001)