Birth control and Eden: the health care dilemma for the organics industry

On two consecutive Saturdays last month, members of a group called Radically Organizing Against Rape (ROAR) protested outside the New Pioneer Food Co-op in Iowa City. They were trying to get New Pi to stop carrying Eden Foods products because, according to ROAR’s little flier, it “is one of the companies that joined Hobby Lobby in challenging the Affordable Care Act’s [sic] so they don’t have to cover birth control for employees.” The flier claims that Eden Foods’ CEO “likened birth control to Jack Daniel’s” and that birth control involved “immoral and unnatural practices.”

Though Eden Foods’ stance against the ACA’s mandate to cover contraception was based on religious grounds — “that its rights have been violated under the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Administrative Procedure Act” ( — the protest piqued my curiosity because I felt there is an unexplored angle to the contraception debate given Eden Foods’ commitment to producing organic food.

First of all, regarding the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, I guess I was kind of hoping the Supreme Court would side with the government. However, it is a sticky issue. On the one side, I am not keen on allowing employers to dictate, based on their religious beliefs, what health benefits they will and will not offer to employees; but on the other side I am leery of government mandates that compromise a citizen’s personal convictions. (In my opinion, this has more to do with money than anything resembling religion — unless we’re talking about the worship of the all-mighty dollar. To me, religious objectivity just seems to be a convenient excuse for stingy corporations to keep their overhead as low as possible. If there is any kind of money-saving loophole that can be exploited, corporations will do everything they possibly can to thread the proverbial camel through a needle hole.) The Supreme Court ultimately sided with Hobby Lobby et al., writing that, “the regulations that impose this obligation violate RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993], which prohibits the Federal Government from taking any action that substantially burdens the exercise of religion unless that action constitutes the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.”

I suppose I could continue down a major tangent, but here’s what I am getting at: though Eden Foods’ objection to the contraceptive mandate was based on religious freedom, could a company dedicated to providing natural, organic food products object to certain forms of contraception, as well as many commonly prescribed medications in general, because they are synthetic, potentially toxic pharmaceuticals that can harm the environment? I highly doubt Eden Foods would have been able to successfully challenge the mandate on the grounds that certain methods of contraception are antithetical to the products it produces, but would a company dedicated to organic products want to subsidize its employees’ use of inorganic and environmentally toxic products?

Probably not. In fact, it would be sadly ironic if they did.

This is an interesting and sticky issue as well. In regard to health care, this conflict of interest could potentially become quite a dilemma for the budding organics industry. On one side you have a commitment to environmentally sound and sustainable practices, and on the other you have a health care system reliant on synthetic chemicals that are deleterious to our long-term personal health and the environment. Add women’s health advocates clamoring for contraception coverage and you have yourself quite a messy quandary, one that potentially pits two tenets of modern American liberalism — environmentalism and feminism — against each other.

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