A federal judge on Monday ruled that Hobby Lobby will have to provide insurance coverage for emergency contraceptives in their group health care plan.
In a 28-page ruling, Judge Joe Heaton of the U.S. District for the Western District of Oklahoma denied a request by Hobby Lobby to prevent the government from enforcing portions of the health care law mandating insurance coverage for emergency contraceptives the company's Christian owner and founder David Green and Green's wife Barbara consider objectionable, The Associated Press reported.
In September, the arts and crafts chain and a sister company, Mardel Inc., filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services, claiming the HHS mandate would violate their First Amendment rights and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Emergency contraceptive pills under mandate do not cause abortions
The owners contend the morning-after and week-after birth control pills are tantamount to chemical abortion because they believe that life begins at conception, when an egg is fertilized.
"Being Christians, we don't pay for drugs that might cause abortions. Which means that we don't cover emergency contraception, the morning-after pill or the week-after pill. We believe doing so might end a life after the moment of conception, something that is contrary to our most important beliefs. It goes against the Biblical principles on which we have run this company since day one," said David Green in an op-ed for USA Today.
At a hearing earlier this month, a government lawyer said the company owners wouldn't be paying for drugs that might cause abortions, because, well, the drugs do not cause abortions.
The morning-after pill works by preventing ovulation or fertilization, the AP reported. In medical terms, pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg attaches itself to the wall of the uterus. If taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, it can reduce a woman's chances of pregnancy by as much as 89 percent. It has been estimated that pregnancy following rape could potentially be reduced substantially if women had access to EC after a sexual assault, a reduction of 22,000 pregnancies each year,
Emergency contraceptive pills cannot interrupt an established pregnancy or harm a developing embryo, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.
Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not religious organizations
In his ruling denying Hobby Lobby's request for an injunction, Heaton ruled that while individual members of the family that owns and operates Hobby Lobby have religious rights, the companies the family owns are secular, for-profit enterprises that do not possess the same rights.
Heaton said that while churches and other religious organizations have been granted constitutional protection from the birth-control provisions, "Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not religious organizations."
Heaton wrote that "the court is not unsympathetic" to the problems cited by Hobby Lobby and their owners, the Green family.
"Plaintiffs have not cited, and the court has not found, any case concluding that secular, for-profit corporations such as Hobby Lobby and Mardel have a constitutional right to the free exercise of religion," the ruling said.
Hobby Lobby faces a January 1 deadline to comply with the mandate to provide all FDA-approved contraceptives. The failure to do so would entail a penalty of up to $1.3 million per day, Reuters said.
Hobby Lobby to appeal ruling
Hobby Lobby calls itself a "biblically founded business" and is closed on Sundays. The family operate 514 Hobby Lobby stores in 41 states and employ 13,240 people who are eligible for health insurance coverage.
It funds a variety of Christian charities and plays inspirational Christian music in its stores. Patriarch David Green is ranked 79th on Forbes Magazine's list of the 400 richest Americans with a net worth of $4.5 billion.
The Green family also sought contraceptive health insurance exemption for Mardel, their family-owned bookstore and educational supply company that has 35 stores in seven states with 372 employees.
Hobby Lobby is the largest business to file a lawsuit against the mandate.
Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C., which assisted Hobby Lobby in the legal challenge, said Monday's ruling will be appealed.
"Every American, including family business owners like the Greens, should be free to live and do business according to their religious beliefs," Duncan said in a statement.