March 29, 2014

The classic slippery slope argument

In logical argument the slippery slope is a device used primarily in the fallacious form, where a person makes a claim that one action will inevitably lead to another. The slippery slope is classified as logical fallacy because it generally ignores alternate outcomes and hones in on the worst possible. 

A slippery slope argument states that a small first step leads to a significant and unwanted outcome. It is an argument rooted in fear and is often used synonymously with another logical mistake, the continuum fallacy. It ignores any possibility of middle ground. Rational individuals avoid this fallacy by acknowledging the possibility of this middle ground.

Take the same-sex marriage argument (please). Almost all opponents to freedom of choice in marriage pose some slippery slope argument or another. Those in opposition commonly offer polygamy or interspecies relations as the only possible outcomes should we begin down the slippery slope that leads away from “traditional marriage.” Anti-miscegenation activists used similarly fallacious arguments in the last century, and they were just as wrong then as now.

Humanity, it seems, has built a little box in which we shelter ourselves from our fears. Every now and then some small group of rugged individualists start pushing on the walls of that box, trying to expand humanity’s comfort zone. These efforts almost invariably set the naysayers abuzz and unleash another slew of the same old warnings. Historically these conservatives have had their arguments proven wrong; yet they are forever there.

In an era where we have seen mankind break his earthly bounds and make the first tenuous steps toward the stars one must wonder why it is that so many of our kind are still willing prisoners in that box. Why is it that when faced with concepts outside the comfortable that so many retreat into ignorance rather than seek the wider universe of knowledge? 

Perhaps it is anecdotal that these retreats into the safety of ignorance so often coincide with a resurgence in superstition… but perhaps, in some cases, correlation truly does indeed imply causation. Religion not only does not want to escape the box, it wants to drag others back into the darkness as well. 

So now, 350 words into this thesis, we finally arrive at the point where the muse initially led. Let us discuss the recent manifestation of religious arrogance and authoritarianism as represented by Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in this case that challenges the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. Hobby Lobby claimed that providing health insurance covering certain forms of birth control violated the owner’s religious beliefs and, therefore, the company should be exempt from the requirement.

The Hobby Lobby mouthpiece raised the slippery slope argument early, which is that pharmaceutical contraception does or could lead to abortion. Abortion is neither at issue in this case nor in the owners’ actions. The argument is that contraception is part of the same spectrum of reproductive health care that includes abortion.

But the real issue in this case isn’t abortion or even contraception. This is a case about freedom of choice: should the healthcare choices available to an employee be dictated by the religious beliefs of his or her employer? Hobby Lobby owners, in their efforts to be offended, utilize yet another logical fallacy; the straw man of religious persecution.

What the supporters of Hobby Lobby want is the ability to legislate the private lives and choices of others, forcibly implying religious beliefs on the unwilling, while  ignoring the reality that giving women and men greater control over their reproductive health is good public health policy. A 2011 study from the Guttmacher Institute found that more than 50% of women using oral contraceptives did so for reasons other than preventing pregnancy. Doctors have prescribed hormonal contraceptives as remedy for myriad health issues for decades: a point totally ignored by Hobby Lobby’s owners and attorneys.

A brief examination of the Hobby Lobby website reveals the company’s religious views. This is fine and dandy. The Green’s have every right to their beliefs, regardless of how bizarre. However, the website does not imply that only people that agree with the Greens should work for the company. One of the “commitments” listed on the website is to provide both employees and their families with company policies that “strengthen individuals and nurture families.”

Hobby Lobby is a business, a corporation. Even if the Greens have this religious commitment they do not imply or pretend that Hobby Lobby is itself a religion. That any business should think that it should have power over the health decisions of its employees is a stretch that should not be allowed. First Amendment protections are individual protections and should not extend to corporations.

Furthermore, the Greens do not seem to mind who walks in their doors to purchase the items they have for sale. So long as the company is willing to accept money from saints and sinners alike, it forfeits any right to be concerned about what goes on between an employee and a doctor.